Armstrong Williams
Armstrong Williams
Beyond Blame:  How We Can Succeed by Breaking the Dependency Barrier
ISBN: 0029353653
Beyond Blame: How We Can Succeed by Breaking the Dependency Barrier
Armstrong Williams discussed his book, "Beyond Blame: How We Can Succeed by Breaking the Dependency Barrier," published by the Free Press. It focuses on two aspects of blame in U.S. society. He argues that people must stop blaming others for their asocial behaviors, but the second meaning is that there are some young people who have been so neglected that they are beyond blame for their behavior. He urges African Americans to take more responsibility for their lives and the futures of their children. He also claimed that affirmative action demeans minorities and blames the failures of black males on the public school system, overprotective elders, and the imbalance of social programs.
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TRANSCRIPT
Beyond Blame: How We Can Succeed by Breaking the Dependency Barrier
Program Air Date: July 16, 1995

BRIAN LAMB, HOST: Armstrong Williams, why did you call your book "Beyond Blame"?
ARMSTRONG WILLIAMS: There are two meanings to the book, "Beyond Blame." The first meaning is that at some point in our lives we must move beyond slavery, the racist history of this country at one time, the many people who were hurt as a result of it, both black and white, and at some point, we must heal the scars that have lingered for so long. And in doing so, we must stop blaming others for the conditions that we're in. Someone beats up on their wife. You ask them why. "Well, my father beat my mother up."' "Why do you sexually molest your kids?" "Well, I was sexually molested." "Why are you a drunk?" "Well, my father was a drunk." We can always blame our troubles away. "Why do you commit crime?" "Well, because I can't find a job." "Why do you sell drugs in your community?" "Well, because the white man gives us the drugs. I have no responsibility for that."

So "Beyond Blame" -- is at some point, we've got to really look at that man in the mirror and take a hard look at yourself and say, "Look, I blamed enough people for where I am. It's time that I look within myself to move beyond where I am and to make something of my life."

And the second meaning of "Beyond Blame" is a meaning that was derived after I had written the book which was there are people in this society who have not grown up with the kind of values, the kind of moral compass and the kind of guidelines that could really give them a chance at life. And in many cases, no fault of their own, they are beyond blame.

LAMB: In your dedication, you say, "To my mother Thelma, and especially my deceased father James S. Williams, my strongest supporters and sternest critics by whom I have been guided, disciplined and comforted. Though my father sleeps, he lives in me, for I am as he fashioned me." What do you mean by that?
WILLIAMS: Oh, God. Oh, I just get so filled when I talk about my father because my father was a man who was my best friend. He was my confidant. He was my mentor. He was my greatest support system. My father -- I remember and I tell you this. I remember when the first time in the early '80s there was an article on me in Jet magazine. My father was so thrilled that my brothers told me he cut the article out of the magazine and pasted it to the windshield of his truck and would just drive around town honking, just showing people the article. So he made me believe in myself.

And even when I fell short, he disciplined me. He punished me, but yet he said, "I do it because I love you." And my father, when I was growing up, wanted me to be a senator. He wanted me to be the governor of South Carolina. He felt I could be those things, and he felt that I had to be educated. He felt I had to build all kinds of relationships, that I had to move beyond race and had to move beyond seeing people in terms of color and judging people by their hearts and by their behavior and how they treat you and the common values that you have. And my father thought me how to respect women, how to save yourself until marriage, that sex should only be in marriage. My father taught me how to honor people who are not my mother and who are not my father and how to say, "Yes, ma'am" and "No, ma'am," and never forget people who have helped you along the way.

My father also taught me how to show kindness and support to those who were considered to be those least among us. So he was a man, and he taught me how to be a man. And I am eternally grateful. And even though my father is deceased, even in death, I still honor those standards and those principles and those guidelines that he set forth for me and brothers and my sisters.

LAMB: When did he die?
WILLIAMS: December 16th, 1985, here in Washington, DC, at George Washington University Hospital. He died of myeloma, which is cancer of the bone, and he did not want my mother to bear the pain of having to take care of him so he came to Washington and he was here for two months and he died by my side -- it was just the two of us -- about 5 a.m. one Monday morning. And it was painful, but even in his death, he taught me how to live, that no matter what we accomplish, no matter how many books you may write, how much money you may make or how many plaques you may have on your wall, that when a person is ill and they're in pain, you're so powerless there's absolutely nothing you can do but just get on your knees and pray to God because he said ultimately what matters in life is your spiritual nature, your values and how you treat mankind along the way.
LAMB: How old was he?
WILLIAMS: He was 65 when he passed away.
LAMB: What did he do for a living?
WILLIAMS: Oh, he was a farmer. He was a slave driver, actually. I mean, I'm telling you, we worked hard growing up. We had this huge farm, Brian. We had about, well, close to 15 head of swine. We had about 50 acres of tobacco, lots of cotton, lots of small grain. And then to top that off, my mother had about a 10-acre garden and we worked all the time. I mean, we worked all the time because my father felt that an idle mind is idle time. And when we were not working, we were in church, Sunday school, afternoon service because my father felt we had to work. Because he said, as long as you could remain at work, you stay out of trouble.

So we had a strong work ethic growing up. I remember one day we had these long tobacco rows. It seemed as if it was almost a mile long. And I remember that it had rained the night before and the next morning the sun came out and, I mean, it was hot. It was steaming. And I remember my daddy say, "Well, I want you guys to crop a few more rows so you won't have to take as long the next day." And I said, "Dad, I've got to tell you. I can't make it. I just -- I can't do it." And my father would just come up before me, "But son, you got to make it because if you don't make it to the end of these rows, you'll give up in life. And you're not a quitter. You've got to make it." And in spite of, not because of, but in spite of, I was able to make it at the end of those rows. And later on in life, I really understood the importance of that metaphor in my life.

LAMB: Where's the farm?
WILLIAMS: It's in rural South Carolina in a little town called Marion, which is about 40 miles from Myrtle Beach and about two hours from Columbia, South Carolina.
LAMB: Where is your mom?
WILLIAMS: My mom's on the farm. My mom still runs that farm. Even though she rents most of it out, a lot of the land she still uses for gardening and that kind of stuff. But my mother's a strong woman, I'll tell you. I get my moral compass, my compassion and my energy and a lot of that about me which is spiritual from my mother. Because when we were growing up, my father was African Methodist Episcopalian and my mother was Pentecostal. So my mother refused to give up her faith to join my father. So on first and third Sundays, all of us had to go to my father's church, and on second and fourth, we had to go Mom's church. And on Daddy's Sunday, it was sedate, laid-back. I would fall asleep a lot, no pun intended. But on second and fourth Sunday, they had the guitars, the tambourines, the piano and people would testify, shout. You know, I kind of liked that, it was kind of lively. It was wonderful and I was the only one of the 10 kids to join with my mom.
LAMB: You have nine brothers and sisters.
WILLIAMS: Eight boys and two girls.
LAMB: They all alive.
WILLIAMS: Yes, they're all alive.
LAMB: Are you in touch with all of them?
WILLIAMS: Oh, yeah. In fact, I'm on book tour and my family joined me for a couple of days on the tour. You should see this entourage of about 12 people tagging along. We were just a family because we did not have neighbors growing up. We had to rely and depend on each other.
LAMB: How old are you?
WILLIAMS: Thirty-six.
LAMB: And how old are they? Or where are you in the...
WILLIAMS: I'm the middle child. I'm in the middle. There are five ahead of me. And there are four behind me. And I'm right in the middle.
LAMB: And where do they live?
WILLIAMS: One is in Connecticut. I have a brother, Alvin, who's in Washington, DC, with me. And the rest are in South Carolina.
LAMB: Any of them radio announcers or...
WILLIAMS: No. None are radio announcers. None are in the media, but...
LAMB: Talk show hosts?
WILLIAMS: No talk show hosts, but they are certainly political, let me tell you. You know, my family are third-generation Republicans. They never left the party of Lincoln. And I'll tell you what you're really going to find to be astonishing is all of my brothers and sisters are Republicans -- every one. Now growing up in my household, my daddy used to say, "I'll tell you, boy, when the Democrats are in the White House, we do poorly on this farm. We can barely make ends meet. But I'll tell you, when those Republicans are in that White House, we do mighty well. You support those Republicans, especially if you're a businessman." He used to say that.
LAMB: What was the reason to write this book and how come it's 102 pages long?
WILLIAMS: You know, it was not my intention to write this book, "Beyond Blame." I initially was going to write "The Conscience of a Black Conservative." I was going to talk about the Great Society programs, the failure of welfare, the failure of affirmative action, the failure of liberalism and the so-called leadership in the civil rights community. And what I also wanted to do, though, being in media I often come across the negative stereotypes of black men in the media. It's just an unfair portrayal because I know so many dynamic men in this country who happen to be black who are just doing phenomenal things and making outstanding contributions to this country. That--and it absolutely goes unnoticed. All you hear about is crime and drugs and sexing it up. And that's just not a true picture.

So I was going to write this book, and the last two chapters of the book I would dedicate to the upliftment of black men. And I was giving this speech at Southeastern High School in Washington, DC. And at the end of the speech, I made this plea that I was looking for positive young black men between the ages of 18 and 30 because I had found the other categories that I had been looking for. And I'll never forget at the end of the speech, two or three young ladies walked up to me and said, "You know, I know you want to do some chapters on the upliftment of black men and I can understand that. It's very important. But there's this young man that we know who you would not consider to be a positive brother. His life is tangling up into a life of crime. He's a hustler. He has no respect for women and even less respect for himself. And I sincerely feel that you can help him."

And I said, "Well, certainly I'm not interested in writing this story. We've got enough of that in the media to portray our black men. That's the main reason why I want to write uplifting chapters about black men, to try to break down those stereotypes that you're talking about."

And I said to her, "Well, what makes you feel as though that I can help this young man?" And she said, "Well, you know, he listens to your radio show, 'The Right Side.'" Stunned I was. I said, "Really?" She said, "Yeah, he doesn't necessarily like the fact that you're a Republican, Armstrong Williams, and that you're conservative, but he likes your spiritual message. He likes your courage. And he likes your strong convictions." And I said, "Well, I don't know if I can help him, but why don't you just set it up and have him come by."

And I was struck by the fact that the young man did come by and he was a half-hour early. I was very impressed with that. And I tell you, Brian, this was so deep and profound. When he walked in my office, just something in my soul, in my spirit, I was magnetized and I said, "Wow, what is going on?" It's because I'm spiritual, I'm spirit led. I said, "Gosh, there's something deeper going on here that I don't know even realize."

So I started talking to this young man. And I used Brad as a fictitious name to protect his true identity. And he started telling me this story. You must understand I've had all these stereotypes about people who are involved in crime and drugs. I felt they'd come from dysfunctional families. I felt they'd come from single-parent backgrounds. I felt they could not find jobs. I felt they were consumed with racism. And also I felt they had come from poverty-striken backgrounds. Shocking to me, Brad was none of the above. Brad had come from an upper-middle class family. He and his father were best friends. He and his mother were very close. They went to church on Sunday. He had strong values. He had jobs. And his parents even paid him a monthly allowance of $200.

So he shattered all my stereotypes. So I said, "So why? Why this life of crime?" And he said to me because he got so caught up in watching the movies and watching what was on TV, he felt he wanted that lifestyle, the nice vacations, the nice clothes, the nice women, the nice cars. He just wanted the finer things in life, and he felt that a 9-to-5 could not afford him that. So he decided that he needed to take up the life of hustling and selling drugs.

LAMB: Murder?
WILLIAMS: Murder.
LAMB: Did he get caught murdering somebody?
WILLIAMS: No. But let me just say -- I use murder in my book, and what he said to me, that he has shot at least three people and he never stayed around to see whether they were dead or not. So I don't know.
LAMB: Fifteen hundred sex partners?
WILLIAMS: Fifteen hundred different women he had slept with.
LAMB: Fifteen hundred?
WILLIAMS: Brian, for the life of me, that was the same reaction I had -- 1,500 different women.
LAMB: Three children.
WILLIAMS: Three children by the same woman.
LAMB: Not married.
WILLIAMS: Not married.
LAMB: Now how do we -- you know, just for purposes of this discussion, how do we know there really is a guy like this?
WILLIAMS: Oh, well, first because it is my integrity and it's my character that's on the line. And if anyone who knows me knows that I would never write a book unless that was the actual truth. And plus, he's...
LAMB: Has he read it?
WILLIAMS: Yes, he's read it. And he's been sort of intertwined in my life and the life of this staff that he's just -- he's really like a part of the family. He comes by. He calls. We communicate. And he has a great relationship with two people on my staff, Theresa and Tangela. So he's like family. And then a lot of my friends have met him because they were curious.
LAMB: How old is he now?
WILLIAMS: He's 31 now.
LAMB: Did he ever marry that woman?
WILLIAMS: No, but I spoke with him recently and he says he wants to do the right thing by marrying his girlfriend, except there's one problem. She's not certain that she wants to be married to him now.
LAMB: How old are the kids?
WILLIAMS: I think 4, 5 and 7. I'm not sure, but I think that's the age range of the kids.
LAMB: Go back to what you said about television. Are you saying that this man blames television movies for what he became?
WILLIAMS: That's beyond blame. That's the excuse that he used to make more money. But in the end, that's the lifestyle he chose. Yes, television contributes to a lot of what's wrong with society today. But in the end, you can turn that off and you don't have to emulate what's on television. So Brad used that as an excuse for going into a life of crime and a life of hustling. But that did not excuse the fact that Brad was wrong.
LAMB: Have you ever been enticed by any of those things that he has?
WILLIAMS: No.
LAMB: Never.
WILLIAMS: Never.
LAMB: Drugs?
WILLIAMS: You know what? I'll tell you this. I've never in my life smoked any kind of cigarette, have never been exposed to any kind of drugs. I've never tasted any kind of alcoholic beverage -- beer, wine -- in my life. And I've never used one word of profanity. Because you know why? You never miss that you never had. It was never in our home. It was never the part of the way we communicated with each other and how we socialized with each other. And when I was in college, I mean, it was just something I had never had, so I never missed it And plus, my parents said that it was wrong because it could lead to compulsive behavior which can endanger the lives of others and then ultimately endanger yourself. So I was never interested.

Now that's not to say that my brothers and sisters did not choose some of those things. I was just a little more like my mom. For some reason, my mother and father really instilled a lot of hard-core values with me. And they spent a lot of time working with me. And, you know, I'm one of those kids who wanted to emulate my parents. I idolized my parents. No television show, no television character could ever replace the respect that I had for my mother and father.

LAMB: Did any of your brothers or sisters have any trouble with drugs or anything like that?
WILLIAMS: Yes, they did.
LAMB: Have you talked to them about it?
WILLIAMS: Yes.
LAMB: Do they blame someone other than themselves?
WILLIAMS: Initially, they did. But after spending two or three years in prison and coming out, they realized that it was their own fault and they moved beyond that. Well, one of them has. There's one of my brothers who still may be involved. But it goes back to my story about Brad. Even my parents who taught their kids the right values, gave them just about everything. But, still, in the end, they had to choose.
LAMB: What is it, do you think that affects some and not others?
WILLIAMS: You know, that is a good question. You know, I think it's peer pressure. I think it's pressure beyond the home. I think there are kids who will tease you, saying, "You're just a daddy's boy, a momma's boy. You can't do anything on your own. Why don't you just try it?" They dare you. And then you try it and you may like it. I just think there's a lot of pressure on kids today, and not only that pressure they have to deal with, then they have to watch it on the television, they have to watch it in the movies, they have to listen to the lyrics of music. So there's just so many things that are coming at them. Until it's--unless you're strong in your constitution in what you believe in and you have strong self-esteem, then let me tell you, you can cave in. I've seen it happen to the best of us.
LAMB: Malcolm S. Forbes Jr. wrote the introduction for this book. Why? Why did you pick him?
WILLIAMS: I have a lot of respect for Steve Forbes. He is someone that I have admired from a distance for a long time. And he called me one day. And he had read some of my writings. And we discussed my writing a piece for his magazine, Forbes. And we wrote a piece, "You Cannot Have A Strong Economy Without Strong Morality." And he said that when he was in Washington, he would like to come by and get to know me. And he did come by. And he spent about an hour and a half in my office. And I was just impressed with his humility, his sincerity. But he was so quiet and so shy. And so we'd talk on the phone. When he's here for functions, I get together with him. And when I was thinking about two people that could really do the foreword and the afterword for my book, there was no question that my mother would do the afterword for my book. I thought about Steve Forbes because of his integrity, and because of the respect that I have for him and continue to have for him. And I knew in his writing the foreword for that book he would honest after reading the book. And that's why.
LAMB: He says in the foreword, "Affirmative action, Williams makes clear, only exacerbates racial tensions."
WILLIAMS: True. It is very true. And let me explain why. There is no question, Brian, that at some point in our lives we all are disadvantaged. We all have a sack on our shoulder and in it are burdens. We all have burdens to bear. It is wrong to assume that black people are the only ones who have burdens and they're the only ones who suffer. White people and everybody else suffer, too. That's just life. Life is a struggle. To say that, though, there are those who are among us who need help at some point who are disadvantaged at some point -- but I would say they're not disadvantaged because of their race. Race may be an issue with someone else, but you don't have to make it your problem.

And I think what affirmative action does, it demeans people like myself for people to assume that for me to be where I am it's because of affirmative action. And the best affirmative action I had growing up were my parents. My father and mother paid the money out of their pockets to send every kid to college that wanted to go. I could have gotten scholarships because of my academic standings. But my father said, "No, somebody else can use that money. I want to pay for my child's education," because he never wanted us to have that stigma.

So when people say to me that I benefited from affirmative action, it's an insult to my parents. But it's demeaning, and it cheapens real success because it doesn't take into account the many black families every day who struggle to do the right things, to raise their children, to send them to college, to finance their education. It does not take that into account. And it also says that wealthy blacks cannot only compete with wealthy whites but they can't even compete with disadvantaged whites.

So there's something wrong there. Now I don't mind, Brian, affirmative action as long as it's based on need. It should never -- and let me reiterate -- it should never be based on race, gender, or ethnicity. There's never an excuse for it to be based on that.

LAMB: When did you leave the farm?
WILLIAMS: Oh, man, I was ready to get off that farm, you hear me? I'm going to tell you something. I needed no motivation to try to go to college and come to Washington, DC. But I left in 1977.
LAMB: Why?
WILLIAMS: Because I was accepted at South Carolina State College.
LAMB: Why'd you pick that?
WILLIAMS: I wanted to stay close to home. And it was far enough away where I didn't have to run home every weekend and my father would expect me to come home and work, if some of their hands did not show up, because I remember my father used to take us out of high school to work the farm. And we had to do that. There were tough times. Sometimes it was hard to find good help. But I went off to college. And my father was proud, because you understand, my father had a third-grade education, and my mother had a sixth-grade education. And all my brothers and sisters before me had no desire to go to college, had little or no interest. So I was the first at my father's house to go to college and to graduate. And then four of my brothers and sisters followed me.
LAMB: What did you first in your life, as you were thinking about the future, want to be?
WILLIAMS: I wanted to be a business owner because my father was an entrepreneur. And I always thought that -- because I used to do his taxes for that big farm when I was 13 or 14 years old. I had to study courses to learn how to do taxes when I was nine and 10.
LAMB: What did you study at South Carolina State?
WILLIAMS: English and political science.
LAMB: When did you meet the first politician that you worked for?
WILLIAMS: Oh, Senator J. Strom Thurmond. This is a story. When I was 16 years old --16, a kid -- my dad and I, because we had to read the papers ... there is an announcement in the Marion Star & Mullins Enterprise, that Senator Strom Thurmond was speaking at the Drydock Seafood Hut which was in my hometown. And so I showed it to my dad. I said, "Dad, Senator Thurmond is right up the street." It was about 10 miles away. I said, "We got to go. We got to go.' So my daddy took off. He said, "Well, get dressed. I'll drive you." It's the kind of father I had.

So we went to the Drydock Seafood Hut and by the time we had arrived, the speech was over and the senator was coming out. And I saw him and because my dad had taught us to be proud and I walked up to him and I said, "Senator Thurmond, my name is Armstrong Williams. And I hear that you're a racist."

Oh, God, I thought my father was going to bop me in the mouth, really, I did, because he had this look. And then the senator laughed and we talked and he chuckled there for a few moments. He said, "Well, you seem like a bright young man. Why don't you just send me your resume when you graduate from high school. And then you make a determination of whether I'm a racist or not." And I said, "OK." And so after that, my father said, "Well, you know, that could have been taken as disrespect." He said, "It's not what you say. It's how you say it. I don't have a problem with you asking him that because you asked that of me whether he was a racist or not. But you have to be using more tact."

And that was the end of it. But he said, "You do follow up on what he said. Hold him to his word. When you get back to the house, you pen a letter to him and remind him that he met you and that you're going to follow up with him when you leave high school." That was the kind of father I had. So, sure enough -- I waited, though. And then my first year in college I was trying to figure out how I would avoid going back to that farm during the summer working in that tobacco field, because I was trying to get away from that farm. So I said, "Well, this is the time. I'm going to write Senator Thurmond."

So I wrote him a letter and I called him a few days later. I had to look up the number. And to my surprise, he called me back in 10 minutes. He said, "You're that young man that called me a racist?" I said, "You remembered." He said, "We got your resume." And he said, "We've got a slot for you." So I said, "Well, I've got ... " -- oh, God, I was ecstatic because I didn't have to go on that farm. If it wasn't the motivational work of Senator Thurmond, it was the motivation not going back on that farm.

So sure enough, I interned with Senator Thurmond for a few months. And that was a great experience because you know why? I fell in love with Washington. I would call my dad and mom 2:00 in the morning because I was staying at the Hyatt Regency on New Jersey Avenue. And I would walk up to the steps of the Capitol and I would just look out and see this beautiful city, all the lights. And I said to my daddy, I said, "I belong here. I've got to come back to Washington. I've got to find a way to come back to Washington, DC."

LAMB: How could you afford to stay at the Hyatt Regency?
WILLIAMS: Oh, well, what I didn't tell you was I was student body president at South Carolina State College for two years in a row. And the student body had a Center for the Study of the Presidency. Are you familiar with that group? They had their meeting here. I was a part of that. And I came representing the student body because my father encouraged us to get involved in extracurricular activities because my father wanted us to be known because, you know, as I said, as if I was living his life. I mean, it was fun because I enjoyed doing it.
LAMB: So when did you go to work for Senator Thurmond full time?
WILLIAMS: Never. I only interned for him. It was only an internship.
LAMB: So you graduated from college, then what?
WILLIAMS: Well, I graduated from college on May 10th, 1981, and I started working for Congressman Floyd Spence, who is now chair of the Armed Services committee. And I worked for him from May to June and then Senator Thurmond got me a presidential appointment with then-President Ronald Reagan. President Reagan appointed me to the position of legislative analyst at the Animal and Plant--Plant Health Inspection Service at the Department of Agriculture. I hated it, though.
LAMB: Why?
WILLIAMS: It's like the plantation. I was never so frustrated. I mean, they assumed because of the hue of my skin, there were only certain things I would do. They would only give me minority issues, things that dealt with black issues. It was just crazy. And I would talk to my father. My father says, "Son, don't worry about that. You're in the arena. You're 21. You've got to learn, learn all you can from those people and network that into a bigger job. Don't worry about that." And so I thought about it. And I said, "You know, you're right. I should just be happy that I got a job," because, see, they had come to Washington and found me a place to stay. And I still stay in the same place today, put the furniture in there, gave me $500 and told me they were finished with me.
LAMB: Your dad did it.
WILLIAMS: ... and my mom did. And then, you know, they always said to me, "And, you know, if it doesn't work out" -- because I was living check to check --"it don't work out, you got your parents because at least I know you're trying to make something of your life. And things don't work out, you got your parents." See, I had my parents to fall back on. But I tell you one thing help that helped. My father was really right, though, because I'll never forget then-Secretary John Block of Agriculture. They asked me to put together the Black History Month program. I said, "Oh, my God, this is black stuff. They must think that's all I can do." And, you know, and people get caught up in that. They assume because you look a certain way that's the only thing that you have interest in.

But I remember what Daddy said. I said, "OK. I'll deal with it." So I thought about it. I said, "Now what can I do to create an opportunity for myself?" So I was reading in the newspaper where Richard Pryor was recovering from being burnt because he was freebasing cocaine. And I'd also read where he had never given a straight speech in his life. And I am creative. I'm a writer. I do write. That's a gift. I'm very creative. And I thought to myself, I said, "Now what if I could convince Richard Pryor to come to Washington, DC, and give a straight speech after all the stuff he has gone through. That would be a coup."

So I ran it by the Agriculture Department officials. They said, "It's a joke. Richard Pryor's not coming here." And I'll tell you what I did. I got the phone book and I called 40 different places in California trying to find Richard Pryor. And the 40th call I reached this law firm. It was Giles law firm. And they put me through to Mr. Giles. And I made myself seem like I was a big, important man, that I represent the secretary of Agriculture and we want to do this Black History Month program and the White House is going to have a reception. And we'd like to have Richard Pryor. We realize he has some problems, but we feel he needs us and we need him.

The guy took me serious. And about three weeks later, they committed. But there was one problem. The Department of Agriculture had a problem that they did not feel it would reflect well on then-President Reagan. It would show that he was not serious about civil rights because he was bringing in a comedian in and it would be an insult to Black History Month. So what I had to do was call Senator Thurmond and say, "Man, I need your support. This will work. I know it will work. But you've got to convince the White House and the secretary of Agriculture that he's got to support me on this." And the senator said, "You've got my support." He stood by me. He said, "Now I'll tell you. If this blows up in your face, there are going to be problems." I said, "I don't care. I'll make it work."

And sure enough, when Richard Pryor came to Washington and when he saw me, he thought I was about 40. You know, I was, like, 23. And he said he agonized about getting on the airplane but he came in. I'll tell you, Brian, there were 8,000 people at that event lined all around the Department of Agriculture. There was media from all over the country. It was on "Entertainment Tonight," and Richard Pryor gave this moving speech. And in the next day's Washington Post which was a Saturday, the headline in the Style section was "The Jester Weeps." And they asked Richard Pryor, "Why did you come?" He said, "Because a lonely Agriculture employee by the name of Armstrong Williams asked me to."

And we had this reception. Senator Thurmond got the White House to have a Black History Month reception on that Saturday -- got such tremendous press. Everybody was happy. And on Monday morning, I received a phone call. Somebody said, "The chairman of EEOC is on the phone for you." This is Monday. I said, "Is that Clarence Thomas?" And then Diane Holt came on the phone and said, "Mr. Williams, could you hold for Chairman Thomas?" "Man, what are you doing in Agriculture? Man, you've got potential. And you've got some skills over there. They don't know how to use you. They can't take advantage of you. You need to be over here with me. Why don't you come over here and interview with me because I think I want to offer you a job." And sure enough that afternoon, I went over and interviewed with this guy by the name of Clarence Thomas and he hired me a week later.

LAMB: What did you do for him?
WILLIAMS: I was his confidential assistance and his press secretary. And I traveled with him 80 percent of the time. And my daddy was so happy. He said, "Son, you see what happens when you're patient and you don't get frustrated and you don't worry about how white people treat you, whether they're racist or not, if they can't get past your skin. Because eventually, you'll force them to. You keep working."
LAMB: Did you think it was racist to always look at you and say do black things?
WILLIAMS: Yes, I did. And I still think it's wrong. Just so...
LAMB: What kind of people were doing that? Were they politicians? Were they full-time employees of the government?
WILLIAMS: Most of them were my supervisors. They were the people that I worked for.
LAMB: Bureaucrats or...
WILLIAMS: And political appointees.
LAMB: What was their political persuasion? Did you ever figure that out?
WILLIAMS: They were Republicans. They were running the department. Ronald Reagan was a Republican president. It's just ignorance. But one thing my mother and father taught me, I can't take on their ignorance. I have to continue to work to create opportunities for myself.
LAMB: So what year did you go to work for Clarence Thomas?
WILLIAMS: January, 1983.
LAMB: How long did you work for him?
WILLIAMS: Four years. Four years.
LAMB: Have you told any of this to your friend, Brad -- it's not his real name -- but that you write about in this? Have you discussed any of this with him?
WILLIAMS: Some of it.
LAMB: Is he interested?
WILLIAMS: Very interested.
LAMB: Where do you find that when you -- and how many times have you had a face-to-face conversation with the fellow you write to in here?
WILLIAMS: Since the book -- I also include him during the interview for the book.
LAMB: Yeah, I mean, how many times have you been with him and...
WILLIAMS: Maybe, and I'm guesstimating, maybe about 15 or 20 times. But when we're together, we spend hours.
LAMB: But what do you find him paying attention to? I mean, where is it you get his attention? What's he like to hear about?
WILLIAMS: My values. The fact that I abstain from having sex until I'm married, the fact that I don't use profanity, the fact that I stand strong on what I believe in, the fact that he does not see me so much as a black man. He's fascinated by the fact that -- he says there's not much that reminds him that I'm a black man. I said, "What does that mean?" He said, "Well, the way you talk, the kind of opportunities you've had in life." I said, "But that's not black nor white. The hue of your skin does not give you self-esteem. I mean, it's what you do with your life. It's real accomplishments. It's real results. It's goals that you set for yourself that you're able to achieve." And what I had to make him realize is that freedom does not come from man. Freedom comes from God. And that I could not do the things that I am able to do if I did not have a higher faith.
LAMB: What's a "New Jack lifestyle?"
WILLIAMS: A New Jack -- well, you know, there's this movie, "New Jack City." And I think Mario Van Peebles starred in it. It's a lifestyle of women and of fancy cars and fancy clothes and hustling with no regard of who it hurts and with no regard for tomorrow.
LAMB: Is that what this man was living or is living?
WILLIAMS: He was.
LAMB: Is he still trafficking drugs and ...
WILLIAMS: No, he's not. He's given that up.
LAMB: Does he work?
WILLIAMS: Yes, he does. He works for a corporation here in Washington, DC.
LAMB: How is he doing?
WILLIAMS: He's doing well. It's a struggle, but he's doing well. I remember the first job I secured for him, he could not even wake up to show up for it on time, and it didn't work out. But he didn't give up. He's on a job that he's been in for quite some time now. And like I said, he's taking care of his family. And he's back in church.
LAMB: I quoted, or I wrote down five people that you quoted, some more than others, in here: Martin Luther King, Frederick Douglass, Nelson Mandela, Eldridge Cleaver and Malcolm X. Let me go through those five. Who was Martin Luther King to you?
WILLIAMS: He was the moral leader of our time. He always put God first. That's why he preached non-violence. That's why he said, "Turn the other cheek." And that's why he used the thrust of his movement was spirituality. And it was God-centered.
LAMB: You said something about you could see in his eyes in here--something ...
WILLIAMS: The light in his window. It was a light that glowed, that there was something deeper -- there was a deeper meaning to his life and others could see it. It was like the light was so strong that people were drawn to him.
LAMB: How...
WILLIAMS: It was a light that had come from his soul.
LAMB: How did you deal with the stories about his extramarital affairs -- the alleged extramarital ...
WILLIAMS: You know, that is a good question. You know, the thing that I'm learning in life, that I'm evolving to, is that we all sin. We all fall short. And even if he had extramarital affairs, that does not take away from the contribution that he made to this world.
LAMB: Frederick Douglass?
WILLIAMS: Oh, man, he was just a great American. He was just wonderful. He was strong. He was very bright. He was educated.
LAMB: Would he still be a Republican?
WILLIAMS: Yes.
LAMB: You think he would?
WILLIAMS: Yes, I would think he would be a Republican. And plus, I have so much respect for him because he was able to achieve at the height of racism and segregation and the height of racism, but still he was able to achieve and to make a difference in the world.
LAMB: What was so special about him?
WILLIAMS: His intellect. He had a brilliant mind.
LAMB: When did you first start ...
WILLIAMS: My father used to talk about him -- Frederick Douglass. He was big on Frederick Douglass. He was big on King.
LAMB: Did you read his biography or autobiography.
WILLIAMS: I read his autobiography.
LAMB: Nelson Mandela?
WILLIAMS: Oh, I'll tell you what I admired about him was the fact that he could have been locked up in prison for 27 to 28 years and could walk out of that prison, not bitter at that white racist government in South Africa.
LAMB: Have you ever met him?
WILLIAMS: Oh, yes. Had breakfast with him two days after he was released. I was in South Africa for his release, had breakfast with he and Winnie. And I'll tell you this. I was struck. I kept saying to him, I said, "Mr. Mandela, tell me some of the bad experiences that you had in Porsmore." And he said, "No, son, I don't want to talk about it. We've got to heal and we've got move on." I said, "Would you at least tell me something?" And he told me this story. He said --I'll never forget this -- "One of the punishments that they use when you're a prisoner at Porsmore, what they would do is strip you buck naked. And you've got to understand it is hot in South Africa. They would strip you buck naked and will take that hot sand and shovel it and cover you and just leave your face open. And the guards would just go and urinate in your face." Oh, he told that story. He had tears in his eyes. That really struck me that that could happen and he could still not be bitter, which made me realize that there had to be a higher power that moved this man for the greater good.
LAMB: Eldridge Cleaver?
WILLIAMS: Eldridge Cleaver represented something that most people would say that I could not identify with -- the more radical element.
LAMB: Did you ever meet him?
WILLIAMS: No. The more radical element, the more nationalist element. But still yet, he had an important role to play in this society. His voice was necessary at that time given where we were in this country.
LAMB: Did you ever read "Soul on Ice"?
WILLIAMS: Yes, I read "Soul on Ice."
LAMB: And what was your reaction to what that said?
WILLIAMS: Well, it wasn't so much my reaction to what it said. It was more that I could understand walking in his shoes. Because if I were where he was at that time, I probably would -- may have been the same way. Because even during the '60s and '70s, I don't see myself as being like a Martin Luther King. I don't see myself as being non-violent because I've got to tell you, if someone hit my mom or my family member or a friend, it's my inclination to hit back because my father told me never allow anyone to abuse or disrespect you. But since then, I've evolved. Since my faith is much stronger now that the bigger person can walk away, can forgive and can move on.
LAMB: Malcolm X?
WILLIAMS: You know, I respected him because he evolved to something greater. And, you know, a lot of people misconstrue what he says in "by any means necessary." People try to take that to mean that he's being violent. But it's not that at all. It means that if you must get a decent education, get a decent education. If you must graduate from high school and college, graduate from high school and college. If you're going to bring a child in this world, take care of that child, provide for your family, do the right thing. That's what he meant "by any means necessary." And it's so misconstrued today, what people use it for their own purposes.
LAMB: When you see kids walking around with the X on the hats and the big face on the T-shirts and all of that of Malcolm X, why are they doing that? What's the motivation?
WILLIAMS: Symbolism. Because someone...
LAMB: Of what?
WILLIAMS: Of "by any means necessary," that he was a radical, that in -- well, you know what? It's unfair to me to try to judge what that symbolizes to them. I can't say what it symbolizes to them because I have not asked. So it would be unfair for me to sit here and to stereotype something that I have no clue about.
LAMB: Why did you decide to write this book as "Dear Brad" letters?
WILLIAMS: Oh, because when we first started out talking to him, we took a lot of notes. We taped a lot. And I would tape it. We'd play it back and we would talk. And I said, "You know, this is like writing a letter. So when I talk with the publishers, I talked to my editor, Adam Bellow, he liked the concept of a letter, because that's what it was like. It was like a letter, a stern letter from a father to his son, but it was a stern letter with love and compassion, of a father struggling to try to help their son to overcome.
LAMB: This is, as you know -- I mentioned earlier, a 102-page book for $18. Did you have a long discussion with Free Press or any discussion about how long this book ought to be?
WILLIAMS: No. No. Actually, I wanted it short. I did not want a book more than 150 pages. I wanted to have something that was so powerful, so impactful that you could read it within four hours. That's what I wanted and we achieved that. It was hard, but we did. And I must say Free Press and Adam Bellow are just wonderful. I couldn't ask for a better editor nor better publishers than Simon & Schuster.
LAMB: What does it feel like to have a major piece written about yourself in The Wall Street Journal -- I think it was front-page -- now have your own book, you have your ... how many radio stations are you on in the country?
WILLIAMS: About 60.
LAMB: When is it heard?
WILLIAMS: Ten to midnight Monday through Friday and nine to midnight on Saturdays.
LAMB: And this is the back of your book. It has pictures of you doing the radio show.
WILLIAMS: And just as animated and as energetic and as enthusiastic as I want to be, yes. That is me on "The Right Side."
LAMB: And what's your reaction to people? I assume you get a lot of attention when you travel around.
WILLIAMS: Yeah, I'm just coming off the road. It is amazing. I tell you, Brian, I have been on about a 10-week tour -- 10-city tour so far. And you know what really touches me is that there are those who would want to make you believe that 98 percent of my audience is white and that black Americans don't listen to my message because they don't see me as representative of anything that they believe in. But that's not true because at the book signings, 50 percent of the audience has been black and 50 percent has been white. And even recently when I was in Los Angeles at Eso Won Bookstores, 98 percent of the audience was black. And it was packed. It was wall to wall like sardines. And it was very humbling for me.
LAMB: When do you hear either blacks or whites say things to you that is kind of a warning sign that this person -- I'm thinking of a white would say -- because you're a conservative, they say things that they think you want to hear. And you know that you got somebody that really doesn't believe. You ever hear of what I guess is the phony voice coming through, someone who ...
WILLIAMS: Who's setting me up?
LAMB: ... salves their own wounds. No, their own conscience because they want you to know how much they like you and they're worried that they might be racist but they can feel better by saying, "Armstrong Williams, I really like what you have to say?"
WILLIAMS: That's true. Now that is true. Now that happens often. But I'll tell you the flip side of that. And I can tell that here. I can tell ... that person is struggling though.
LAMB: What's the warning for you, though? What are the warning signals that somebody's not really playing it straight?
WILLIAMS: "Well, Armstrong, I'm not a racist. I listen to you. I like your show. I read you." -- so that's the warning sign, because they have to qualify it. They may call in and say, "Armstrong, I was a racist before, but since I've started listening to you, I'm beginning to change." But...
LAMB: What do you hear from your own race that bothers you?
WILLIAMS: When they tell me that I have been bought and paid for by some right-wing white conservative group, that what I'm espousing, I don't believe in; I don't run my own business, that I'm bought and paid for. And it's sad that they can't look at me and feel that I have real accomplishments, real results because I work. I work real hard. Do you hear me? Hard.
LAMB: Well , why do you think they say that to you?
WILLIAMS: Because they can't see in themselves that anybody could be so successful on their own, especially if they're black, without the help of some -- who they perceive, the people who control everything, by white people. That's says more -- it's more feeding into the argument that you are inferior and they are superior. And because you're inferior, you cannot do anything unless they bless you and say, "We're going to bring you into the fold."
LAMB: You say in your book you've made some money.
WILLIAMS: Oh, yeah, and I don't apologize for making money. I have a company to run. I have employees ...
LAMB: What does your company do?
WILLIAMS: It's an international public relations firm, Graham-Williams Group. We have such clients as Century 21, Caltex Petroleum. We represent the Crystal Cathedral and Reverend Robert Schuller. And the company also represents me, "The Right Side" -- the radio, the TV. I'm a syndicated columnist with the LA Times Syndicate. We have a TV show on National Empowerment Television. We have "The Right Side" syndication on Salem Radio Network. We're about to launch a newsletter. We have the book. So we have a growing operation.
LAMB: Who's Graham?
WILLIAMS: Stedman Graham.
LAMB: Who's that?
WILLIAMS: Stedman runs a public relations firm out of Chicago. He just happens to be the fiance of Oprah Winfrey. But I bought him out two years ago. I'm now the sole proprietor of the firm.
LAMB: And so he's not involved with you anymore.
WILLIAMS: Not on a partnership basis. We're just good friends.
LAMB: Go back to Clarence Thomas. Four years you worked for him. What year did you leave him?
WILLIAMS: The latter part of '87. I left him somewhere around 1987.
LAMB: What did you do then?
WILLIAMS: I started working for an international public relations firm in High Point, North Carolina. I started working for Bob and Sally Brown. I've got to tell you, it was tough leaving the chairman, I want to tell you. He was tough to work for, though. He was tough. If you're talking about discipline, he reminded me so much of my father. It was one of the most painful decisions I ever had to make. But, you know, my father had just died. And he was wonderful. He let me take off of work and take care of my father. He was supportive and it was no longer the same. I just didn't have the enthusiasm or the energy. I felt I needed to get away.

And I'll never forget. I wrote him this letter and he called me upstairs. He had tears in his eyes. I've never seen this man show emotions before. As far as I'm concerned, I didn't even know whether I was appreciated there or not. I knew I traveled with him. We had a great time. But he was not the type of person who would pass out compliments. And I saw tears in his eyes. And, Brian, I was stunned. He said, "I really hate to see you go. You don't have to leave. Is there anything I can do to change it?" I said, "No, but just seeing you show some emotions really means a lot." And that meant a lot to me.

So I went on to work for this public relations firm. And then Stedman said to me once, he said, "Why are you working for somebody else? Why are you working to make somebody else money when you can do it for yourself?" And I had always dreamed of wanting to go in business. So my financial mentor, Terry Giles and Patty -- he was the lawyer who brought Richard Pryor to Washington for me. We're just like brothers and sisters -- his wife and I. And so Stedman and Terry told me it was time for me to leave. They felt I could be an excellent entrepreneur because I was not afraid of working. And I was not afraid of taking risks. And I was not afraid of being free because I knew it had its consequences. You had the right to reap all the rewards, but you could also fail.

So I had courage. I decided to move back to Washington, put up a shingle. And what was so wonderful -- my mother took two weeks off from the farm, one week to come to High Point to load all my furniture and box all my clothes and load it on the truck and move me to Washington. And she and my sisters stayed another week to unpack me while I set up the company. So my family has just been instrumental with me, throughout my entire life. Without my family, without the support staff I have at Graham-Williams Group, I would not be where I am today.

LAMB: Have you ever married?
WILLIAMS: No, I've never married. I was engaged. Haven't married. They marry late in the Williams family. In fact, my eldest brother was, like, 38 when he married. And my mother was 32; my father was .... they married late. And I've always said and my mother's always said that probably around 40 is when I wanted to marry. I've always said it even as a child. So I've got about four years.
LAMB: You were active in the Clarence Thomas confirmation hearings.
WILLIAMS: Very active. Yes.
LAMB: What is a memory from that experience that you haven't talked about?
WILLIAMS: Oh, Brian, I've never seen and felt so much pain in someone I care so much about as I felt in Justice Thomas. I've never have seen him so hurt, so distraught.
LAMB: When was he at the lowest?
WILLIAMS: I'll tell you, I was in New York, and I was about to check out of this hotel and David Brinkley came on at noon and he mentioned something about Anita Hill and Justice Thomas and sexual harassment. And I picked up the phone and I called him because he had mentioned to me that he had been investigated. But I said, "This is ridiculous. This is crazy," because you know, I was there. I worked with Anita. And he said to me, "Is this serious?" I said, "It can't be serious." And then by Monday morning when I spoke to him, oh, man, he was weary.

But you know what, I'll tell you this. I'll never forget a conversation we had. I said, "But, you know, this is vicious. I have never witnessed such viciousness in my life." That's what happens to me when people say about me is nothing. Because I've seen the worst. It cannot get any worse than what happened to my friend and mentor. And I said to him, "But you know what? This is not about you. This is about the fact that you are the wrong kind of Negro. And the Congressional Black Caucus and the civil rights leadership had given white liberals carte blanche to come and destroy you. And no one will ever cry racism because they will protect them." And I said, "Not only for you, but for generations to come, particularly, though, for those who call ourselves black conservatives, we must fight. This is our defining moment. Yet our numbers may be fewer. Just always remember that one person with courage and conviction makes a majority." I said, "We must fight." And he said, "And we will win." And then I said, "Let the games begin." And we fought.

I mean, we fought with every ounce of energy in our bodies, but we fought with integrity. And we fought in prayer. We did not go to the sewer like they did. We just told the truth.

LAMB: What role, and you've alluded, and you write about it in here, what role does religion play in your life today?
WILLIAMS: Oh, man, you know, I am a strong Christian. I mean, how strong of a Christian can you be? I'm a Christian. I am Pentecostal.
LAMB: What's that mean?
WILLIAMS: That I believe in the Ten Commandments of God. I believe in the godly principles. I believe that abortion is wrong. I believe that same-sex marriages are wrong. I believe that if you commit a crime, if you take somebody's life in a very vicious and malicious way, you owe a debt to society and you should pay with your own life. I don't believe in such things as racism. I see it as sin. I think racism is the immoral political tool of our day. I don't blame -- even in my faith, I don't blame one white person living today for slavery. And there's not one black person living today who's a victim of slavery. I can never look at someone because they look at me and said I have to have more of alliance or more of allegiance to them because they share the hue of my skin. I have to love everybody. I have to decide to love everybody. I have to trust everybody until they give me a reason not to.
LAMB: You say in the book that your friend Brad -- that you call him Brad; it's not his real name.
WILLIAMS: Right.
LAMB: Do you think it'll ever surface what his real name is?
WILLIAMS: No. He wants to remain anonymous because when I saw him about two weeks ago, he said, "Mr. Armstrong, I read this book again. And I'm embarrassed. I'm ashamed. I'm humiliated by what's in this book." He says, "There's nothing in this book that makes me proud." He said, "The only way I can redeem myself is to be a better father, not only for my children, but to be a man and to make a contribution to society instead of the things I've done before that has hurt and has hurt a lot of people along the way."
LAMB: But you say in here he does not believe in God.
WILLIAMS: Well, he said he did not believe in God because he had never seen God. And I talked about my experiences with my father, and he believes in God. He never realized that's what it was. He believes.
LAMB: You're you're 36 years old. What's next?
WILLIAMS: What's next?
LAMB: What's the goal?
WILLIAMS: What is the goal? I'll tell you, I'm having fun. It's just wonderful because, you know, my father had to deal with racism and segregation. My parents were brilliant. I mean, brilliant parents. And so I like to just see what I can do with my life -- I have strong morals. I have a strong character and not compromising my integrity to just see how far I can go by just expanding my creativity, my juices, my mind and just see. I don't know. But I've got to tell you, the things that I've been able to do before, through the grace of God, it's just amazed me. And the more I do, the more I want to do. I mean, I love the work. I love getting up early in the morning, to the office and I hate to leave in the evening. I enjoy the people that I work with. So who knows? I don't know. I just know that the future is so bright I may need sunglasses.
LAMB: Run for office?
WILLIAMS: Boy, Brian, I tell you. It was a dream of my father's. And I think that is probably the one area I may disappoint him in because I really don't see government solutions for what ails us. I think it's important that I am in the media. I think it's important that we have alternative voices in the media. And I think it's important that America see that black Americans are not a monolith. We do not all believe in the same thing. We may not share all the same values. We come in different packages just like all other Americans. And I think it's good for them to see that we're celebrating diversity and celebrating different ideas in this society. And I'm glad to be a part of that. I'm glad to be in the media. I'm glad to be in the media, influencing opinions, giving a different perspective instead of what we've had for the past 30 years where the liberals have created their spokesvoices in the media, on TV and radio and through columns, where they were almost a high priest of blackness. The spoke for us.

Nobody speaks for the black community. You speak for yourself by the examples you set and how you live your life and by the real accomplishments that you make to make this society a better place. I think it's wonderful. I will say this for America, that we have broken the gridlock on ideas in this country.

LAMB: Who are your political heroes today?
WILLIAMS: Justice Thomas is a hero of mine. That are living? My political heroes. Oh, I respect Senator Bob Dole. I have tremendous respect for him as a war hero. And I'll tell you another reason I respect him is the fact that in the '60s when it was not popular for Republicans to support the civil rights legislation, he voted for the civil rights bill which meant that -- it tells you where his heart is.
LAMB: Is he your man for president?
WILLIAMS: I wouldn't be disappointed if he won.
LAMB: Now you know that there's a rumor that Malcolm Forbes Jr. is going to run for president.
WILLIAMS: I do. I do.
LAMB: What are you going to do when the guy who wrote the preface to your book runs for president?
WILLIAMS: Well, I'll tell you what. I respect Steve Forbes. I respect Steve just as much as I respect Senator Dole. And, hey, it'll be fun. But isn't it wonderful when you have this kind of choices of two wonderful human beings who can do so much to move the country forward?
LAMB: What's the most interesting thing that's happened to you since you published this book?
WILLIAMS: The most interesting thing that's happened to me since I published the book. I'll tell you what it is. Being on the road, realizing how much this country celebrate and love authors. That is the most shocking thing to me, the kind of respect that I get being an author and how people want your ideas, your thoughts. But it's just wonderful being an author, write a book and then walk into the bookstore with your mother. And it's displayed right out front and there's you and your picture. And my mother looks at me and says, "Boy, you sure come a long way." It's kind of fun.
LAMB: Here's the cover. Our guest has been Armstrong Williams. And the title of the book: "Beyond Blame." Thank you very much.


Copyright National Cable Satellite Corporation 1995. Personal, noncommercial use of this transcript is permitted. No commercial, political or other use may be made of this transcript without the express permission of National Cable Satellite Corporation.