Oral history from the Jackson Civil Rights Sites Project: Hezekiah Watkins
Margaret Walker Alexander Research Center
Jackson State University, Jackson, Mississippi
Interviewee: Hezekiah Watkins
Interviewer: Don Williams
September 17, 1998
DW: Mr. Hezekiah, can you spell your name for me?
DW: Is that your last name
or first name?
W: First name. Last name is
DW: Mr. Watkins, what's your
W: 902 Dalton, D-a-l-t-o-n.
DW: What is your telephone
DW: What is your date of birth?
DW: Where were you born?
W: Milwaukee, Wisconsin.
DW: Oh, so you're a Yankee.
So how long have you been living in
W: About 35 years.
DW: What year did you first
come to Jackson?
W: I would really say it was
about '55 I believe.
DW: Have you lived any place
outside of Milwaukee and Jackson?
DW: You were never in the service
W: Well in the service. In
the service from '66 through '68.
DW: Did you go to Vietnam?
W: Yes I did.
DW: What church did you attend
during the '50's, '60's, and '70's?
W: Mt. Elm. E-l-m I believe
is the correct spelling.
DW: I'll look it up. Did you
belong to any organizations or clubs or
anything like that?
W: I'm a member of NAACP and
a member of CORE.
W: Congress of Racial Equality.
DW: Did you ever participate
in any of the marches or demonstrations?
W: Yes sir, I did.
DW: And you went to Lanier
High School? Am I correct?
DW: What year did you graduate?
DW: Did you go to college?
W: Yes I did.
W: Utica Junior College in
Utica, Mississippi. U-t-i-c-a.
DW: And what years did you
DW: Oh so you left Utica and
then went on to the service.
DW: You got drafted?
W: Got drafted.
DW: Okay, what was your MOS
in the service?
W: I was a specialist in the
infantry dealing with maintenance.
DW: In what outfit were you
assigned when you went to Vietnam?
W: I was never assigned to
an outfit. I was there but I was there only
for a brief time, maybe three weeks. And this was during the time the
Pueblo was stolen in Korea and they took myself, along with several
other hundred soldiers, and shipped them from 'Nam to Korea. Figured
there was going to be a conflict in Korea during the Pueblo
DW: How long have you been
a registered voter?
W: Ever since I was--I don't know how old I was--we are going to say
DW: You're a store owner. What's
the name of your store here?
W: Corner Food Market and Deli.
DW: I understand that you've
been giving community gatherings or
picnics. What do you call that?
W: We try to do something at
least three or four times a year here in
the community. We started about 8 years ago with a community block
party, where we block the streets off, we have a band, we invite
political figures, as well as radio and TV personalities, and just
people in general to come out into this area.
DW: How many people normally
show up to your affair?
W: Well it varies. I think
it was one year that we had over 500 out
here at one time.
DW: Mr. Hezekiah.
W: Just call me Heck. H-e-c-k.
W: Yes. Heck.
DW: Where does that come from?
W: That's a biblical name.
W: Hebrew. Yes.
DW: Tell me when was the first
time that you participated in any Civil
Rights activity or when did you become first aware that there was a
Civil Rights struggle for Black folks here in the Jackson area?
W: I believe it was '62 or
'63. I had gone to a few of the rallies at
the Masonic Temple and there was something held at I think the church
DW: Okay. Pratt Memorial Church.
W: Those were two places that
I attended and heard about the struggle.
I had heard so much about the late Dr. Martin Luther King and I remember
slipping away from home. My Mom lived in the same place now over on
Rigsby which is near Rowan Middle School and you know where the Masonic
Temple is. I'm not sure we can see the distance. Do you know where
Mill Street is? You know where Rowan School is?
DW: Okay. You're talking about
over on Mill?
DW: That's where Dr. Martin
Luther King is.
W: Right. Exactly. I walked
from there, from my home, over to the
Masonic Temple just to get a glance.
DW: And that Masonic Temple was on?
DW: Okay, the Masonic Temple
down here on Lynch Street?
DW: You walked from way over
there to over there?
W: Exactly. I had already seen
Dr. King on the nightly news preaching
and teaching about the brothers and the sisters and their struggles and
I wanted to see what was the struggle all about because I didn't know
anything about a struggle. I knew we were oppressed. I knew there were
certain things we couldn't do. But I thought this was a way of life
since my parents and my grandparents and before them they all were
accustomed to going through the back door, being second-class citizens,
and etc., etc. So I said, "Well Lord, this is the way it's suppose
be like that." So after going and hearing Dr. King I remember not
sitting down at the Masonic Temple.
DW: So was Dr. King at the
W: He was at the Masonic Temple.
DW: When was this now?
W: I'm not sure of the year,
but it was either like '62 or '63.
DW: We'll look that up. Was
it during the summer or the winter?
W: School was in session. We'll
just go to fall.
DW: We'll find out when that
W: I heard him talk about sitting
at the back of the bus, not being able
to eat at lunch counters--or should I say not eat at lunch counters out
front. There were lunch counters we could eat but they were towards or
around to the side or around back. And these were things he was talking
about. I remember him talking about fountains being for Colored or
fountains being for Whites. And that struck a nerve because on Capitol
Street they had water fountains on the sidewalks right in front of
Woolworth. And they had it clearly indicated Colored. And they had one
on the flip side it was clearly indicated White. So I say, "Well?"
Hearing Dr. King talk about that Colored water versus that White water,
it's no difference. I said if it ain't no difference then I wouldn't
mind drinking the Colored water.
DW: Let me ask you. Who else
was at the Masonic Temple meeting?
W: Dr. King. In terms of guest
DW: Yes and who were kind of
like the facilitators of that?
W: I want to say--
DW: Was this before Medgar
W: This was before, yes.
DW: Okay. Medgar.
W: I was going to say it probably
was Medgar. I did have one of my
neighbors went with me.
DW: What was your neighbors
W: Troy. His name was Troy
DW: Is he still alive.
W: Yes. He's living in Chicago
now. So we listened, and we heard, and
we looked at each other; and on the way back, we were walking back, we
decided to talk about the meeting. I guess we got up there on Monument
and Capitol and the police wanted to know where were we coming from and
we said, "Nowhere." He said, "Y'all coming from somewhere.
coming from Niggers?" So they went up and like going to turn around.
So when they made the turn we ran. And behind Jitney Jungle now on
Capitol--I'm not sure what was there then; it might have been a Jitney,
I'm not sure--but we ran behind there and down the railroad tracks and
jumped a few places. I was about ready to make my way home. A few days
later at school everybody was talking about the Movement and everything.
DW: You were at Lanier at this
W: I was at Lanier. And a lot
of things had been happening. So we
decided--when I say we I don't know who decided but the word got out
throughout the school that we were going to walk out that day. But I
remember the principal, Principal Buckley, L. D. Buckley, got on the
intercom and made the statement that if anybody leaves school then you
won't be admitted back in; you won't be able to go to school nowhere in
Jackson. I said, "Oh Lord. If I do that my Momma's going to kill
So it was after lunch the word had gotten out again, we're definite how
we're going to do it. So what they were really looking for was
somebody. I think I might have been in the 11th grade at the time.
DW: So who did the organization
of the students?
W: I really don't know. I don't
think it was really organized. We met
at the front door and I remember Mr. Buckley and Mr. Anderson being
there at the front door--Mr. Anderson was assistant principal at the
time--at the door trying to stop us. Whoever was up front, who I don't
know, just walked on out and the door opened. When the doors opened we
all more or less just followed and went on out. We got on the corner.
We sang. There was someone from CORE that was out there waiting on us.
I'm not sure who was there. We began singing and shouting and the next
thing I knew we were in jail. They released me to my Mom, I believe. I
found out that jail really wasn't that bad.
DW: So where did they actually
W: They actually took them
to jail the first time.
DW: Which would have been downtown?
W: Downtown. Right. And the
second time was a big mass march where we
were--I'm not even sure where we were--but we were all loaded on back
garbage trucks; not the type garbage trucks they use now. It was the
long-bed type of garbage truck. They had the paddy wagon, the garbage
truck, and a lot of other long-bed vehicles there and they transported
us all to the Fairgrounds. And I remember being loaded on the truck
along with some other guys and there was a bread company, a bakery here,
by the name of Hart's Bread--I think it was --H-a-r-t-'s--and they were
passing out sweet rolls and other items to the police officers.
DW: Hart's Bread to the police
officers to keep them refreshed.
W: Right. And it was Barq's
DW: Yes. Barq's. Yes. They
were actually giving refreshments to the
W: "We're going to remember
you when we get out." I might be going back
and forth on this material as I remember it.
DW: Oh, they got boycotted
W: I'm getting ready to tell
you. When we got out we boycotted Barq's
Root Beer. We boycotted Hart's Bread. Hart's Bread went out of
business and so did the root beer and then they came back through--Coca
Cola bought them out; bought the whole franchise or bought the syrup or
whatever you call it, whatever it is. Now Coke holds patents on Barq's
Root Beer. But we shut them down here in Jackson, those two companies.
DW: Do you remember Doris Smith
during that time?
W: I don't remember Doris Smith
during--I know her. As a matter of fact
I know her well but I didn't recall her during the Movement at all; but
I was told that she was part of the Movement.
DW: She was the first one told
me about Barq's drinks and Hart's Bread.
W: Well that's true. That's
true. We sure did.
DW: At Lanier was there any
other, what do you call, student activists
or was there anyone kind of like the peer group leader or role model or
something that would kind of encourage the kids? You know in any group
you're going to have some leadership and some encouragement.
W: I've been asked that question
before and I really don't recall,
because someone said they thought I was the person; I surely wasn't that
person. I remember just a few young ladies by the name of Evelyn
Harris, she's a Cyrus now, Evelyn Cyrus, but she was a Harris at the
time. I remember her quite vividly, but I don't even think she was the
spokesperson. I don't know who, if any, was what you would call in
charge of it. We would go to meetings and find out at the meeting
basically what we were going to do the following day, or on a weekend,
DW: Where would you meet?
W: We would meet right here
on Lynch, Winston Road, there was a house
there; it's torn down now. That was CORE's office. And then came
Student Non-violent Coordinating Committee.
W: SNCC. Yes. And they were
housed on Farish up over Big John's. You
know where Big John's is?
DW: Over Big John's.
DW: When did you first meet
W: I'm not sure if I met Jesse
when in jail, or at one of the CORE
offices, or at the SNCC office. But we met and we kind of like, not
only Jesse, it was Jesse Morris, there was a guy named Lawrence Juliard,
somebody Raymond, Dave Dennis, oh and the list goes on. I might have
met Jesse in Canton, because I had gotten so involved in this Movement
until my Mom put me out.
DW: Your Mom actually said,
"Well you've got to get out of here?"
W: Yes I had to go. I ended
up in Canton. I organized in Canton. I
went from Canton to Greenwood. Greenville, Clarksdale, all of the Delta
DW: And this was primarily
through what organization?
DW: Oh, you were with CORE.
Who was the local Jackson leader here for
W: Could have been Jesse. Could
have been Dave Dennis. It should have
been Lawrence, J.R., and all these guys were big in CORE. I'm not sure
which was which.
DW: How did you get chosen
to be an organizer? Did you volunteer, you
W: I would just more or less
volunteer because for a while there I was
just in and out of jail and my Mom had problems with her employer
because they would post the names of everybody that was arrested. As a
matter of fact I even went to Parchman, but I stayed less than a day;
because I was about 16 when I went to Parchman. During that time you
had to be a certain age then. I think it was 18. I was too young to be
DW: Where did you get arrested?
W: Here in Jackson.
DW: How far is Parchman from
W: Parchman is 100+ miles.
That's the state penitentiary. They were
out of room. There wasn't any room available.
DW: And the Fairgrounds?
W: They were gone.
W: Yes. They let you out and
they ask you not to come back. If I get
out at 12:00 then at 4:00 that same day I'm back, or the next day. They
didn't have to tell me well Watkins we want you to go here or go there.
Hell when I got out I would go back down to the bus station, that
Greyhound Bus Station that was on Lamar. And it was just a thing about
sitting at the front counter ordering me a burger. If it wasn't there,
it was going to be at Woolworth's ordering me some fries. They had some
good fries at Woolworth's. I was there. I probably--I don't have the
numbers--but I was told I was arrested more times than any person in
DW: Can you give me a ball
park? More than 50, more than 75, more than
W: I was right at a hundred.
It was right at a hundred. I remember
being in jail. I have a hole here now where the only time that I was
really beaten was down here in the city jail. As a matter of fact the
FBI came out and took pictures of my head.
DW: What year was that?
W: Oooooh. '63, '64. As a matter
of fact I'm still having problems
from that blow right now. These migraine headaches, as a matter of fact
I'll have them until I die. There was a big gash there. This guy just
drew back with everything he had and came down on me. I was being
released from jail. That jailer opened the cell, and I walked out in
front of him, and that's the only thing I remember, being hit.
DW: Tell me, did they single
you out? I mean they knew who you were?
W: I was singled out because
they knew me by my nickname. That's how
well they knew me.
DW: And what? They called you
W: Heck. H-e-c-k.
DW: So you were considered
W: I was considered as a hell
DW: Agitator, hell raiser?
W: Agitator, hell raiser. Let
me tell you what they did to my Mom. My
Mom worked at Primos Restaurant. That was a chain restaurant here in
Jackson, had about five of them throughout the city and it was an
exclusive restaurant for Whites.
DW: Right. Primos.
W: What they were doing, they
were putting your name in the paper, where
you live, and your mother and father's name; they done rented a space.
And somewhere on there they put if any of these folks work for you
"period". If any of these folks work for you "period,"
or do any of
these folks work for you"?" It was running something like that.
guess this particular day my Mom went to work and Primos told her,
"Minnie, you need to talk to your son. If he doesn't stop being,"
guess they used the word, "an agitator then I guess we're going to
to let you go." So my Mom came home crying and telling me that I
to stop doing this or doing that, she's going to lose her job, etc.,
etc. So I said, "You know I don't want you to lose your job so I'll
just get out." So basically that's what I did.
DW: She understood that?
W: No. She didn't understand
it; but, she dealt with it. It was
something that I was determined. I was determined to make a difference
if I had to do it by myself.
DW: What year was that?
W: I really can't recall.
DW: Were you still in high
school or out of high school?
W: Still in high school.
DW: Still in high school when
you left home?
W: Yes. It was during the summer.
DW: How did your colleagues,
or your friends, or your partners?
W: In my community they viewed
me as a person who was doing things that
they could not do. They viewed me as a hero. They viewed me as we view
Martin Luther King to be honest with you. I would come home. I
remember being given a vehicle to drive. It was a Biscayne Chevrolet,
new one, brand new, it was white.
DW: Now who gave you the vehicle?
W: It was one of the vehicles
that was a leased vehicle; but, it was
being used in the CORE organization.
DW: So you had organizational
support for when you left home?
W: Exactly. Exactly.
DW: Tell me just how much,
what kind of support did you get after you
W: When I left home I'm not
sure who I came up with; but I was told I
could go to Canton. I remember going to Canton and staying in this
house with about 15 people who were from across the United States, not
knowing any of them. And I was more or less a leadership organizer. I
did not go to jail in Canton. But I was helping organize the marches,
the rallies, and any other activity that went on there.
DW: In Canton?
W: In Canton. Then I left Canton
and I went to Greenwood. And I was
basically doing the same thing there, helping organizers. I remember
driving this car home and it had this long antennae on the back and we
could communicate with each other from up in the Delta, believe it or
not back then, to right here in Jackson, locally. So when I went home
to see my Mom and the little kids and big kids were on the outside, "Man
I want to go with you, Man. We've been reading about you, Man," that
type of thing. So it made me feel good. But I was doing something.
They had read up on me and somebody had told them something about me and
stuff like that.
DW: When you say read, was
it local newspapers?
W: Local newspapers. As a matter
of fact Jesse brought a clipping by
here not long ago that appeared in the newspaper after one of the times
I had been arrested. Of course, you know I never did see it. He said
there were more. It was a small clipping that I had made a statement
about being a student at Lanier High School, and that I wasn't afraid
the White folks, and the White folks weren't going to keep me from doing
something. I don't even recall it being in the paper, because we didn't
take papers back then. Very few Blacks took papers. Very few Blacks
DW: So essentially then we
were talking about trying to figure out who
was leading the students and it sounds like you were the leader by
demonstration and example.
W: I really wouldn't call myself
a leader. It was just something that
stuck to me that I wanted to do. Give you a prime example; like right
here in this location, I've been here for 12 years and before me there
have been Black, and White, and Iranians trying to run this store here
and they couldn't do it. I set my mind to do it. I wanted to do
something here. I'm going to do something in this community. This
community used to be called Dope Corner. It was more drugs on this
corner than anywhere else in the city of Jackson, and this was
statistics from the Jackson Police Department. And now it's just the
opposite. We've still got some problems here. But we've put a big bite
into drugs in this community. So it was something that I wanted to do
back then, it's something I want to do now.
DW: This is Robert Williams.
DW: Let me ask you this, when
you were at Lanier were there any teachers
who the kids looked up to, that gave encouragement for it?
W: I don't think they gave
us any encouragement. I think it's a case in
which they did not down us. And to me that was just like encouraging
me. Because I think you have to look back, if they had given us any
support then they would have lost their job. As a matter of fact not
only just for then they would have lost their job for life in the
Jackson Public School System. No, there weren't any teachers at Lanier
that I know of that were supporters, locally supporters.
DW: Did the school system have
a written policy at that time to restrain
teachers from getting involved?
W: I don't think it was. I
really can't answer that question. But I
would think not. I would think that you knew. You knew your place. I
think what they did through the Jackson Public School System as a whole,
they worked through your principal and your principals worked through
the teachers. The principals set the rules--you will not do this, you
will not do that, if you do, then you're going to be looking for a job.
You know we're talking in the '60's man. The only decent job you could
do was teach. So they weren't going to lose those jobs. And I
understand. I understood then, I understand now.
DW: At Lanier, did you guys
come in contact with any other high school
students around Jackson?
W: Yes. The day after Lanier
had the walkout and the media blew it up,
which was good, and the word got out to the other schools that Lanier
was going to do it again.
END OF SIDE 1 OF TAPE
W: Chickens. Y'all a bunch
DW: Now was Brinkley a junior
high or high school?
W: It was a high school.
DW: You had Lanier, Jim Hill,
and Brinkley were the three Black high
schools in Jackson.
W: Yes. Like I said we were
calling them chickens and we started
calling them Uncle Toms. So the next time we got ready to do it, man,
think Brinkley and Jim Hill probably had more than Lanier to walk out
that time. So all the schools walked out that time. And I think that
was what they called a Mass Walkout. And, if I'm not mistaken, that
probably was the day they brought in the paddy wagon, the garbage
trucks, and the other big long vehicles to haul us in.
DW: What year was this now,
W: Through the years I can't
remember. It's either going to be '63,
DW: Do you remember Timothy
Summers? Was he in school at the time with
you guys or before you or after you?
W: I'm trying to think. Tim
and I are probably around the same age. So
I have to say yes.
DW: What about Wydette Hawkins?
Was he around then?
W: Wydette didn't attend Lanier.
Wydette attended Brinkley if I'm not
mistaken. He did. He attended Brinkley. I'm trying to think of this
man's name. We were near the Fairgrounds. We were going to integrate
the fair this particular year. We were determined. It was about 25 or
30 of us, all male. They had told us don't go. They got to the
preacher. Our biggest problem back in the '60's, I want to say that
this needs to be printed, our biggest problem was our ministers. And it
might be our problem today. The ministers back in the '60's, in my
opinion, held us back, way back, further back than the White man. The
ministers were getting up on Sunday in the pulpit telling us--I say the
ministers; now that doesn't include all of them; there were a few did
not do that--but the majority of the Black ministers were getting up in
the pulpit on Sundays telling the congregations don't do this, don't let
your children do this. These are the consequences that would happen if
your children march, if your children do whatever. The word had gotten
out over the weekend, or maybe prior to the weekend, that I think the
White folks had like a week and we had like three days of fairs. So we
had gotten together over the weekend and we were going to go. I
remember these preachers were on the radio telling their congregations,
"Don't be a fool. Don't send your children around to the fair. Wait
until our night." And I thought that was the most ridiculous thing
ever heard. So we chose to go that Monday; it was around 10 or 11
o'clock that morning, going to the fair; should have been in school but
we were going to go to the fair like all the White kids. When a fair
comes to town you're going to skip some days. So we get to the fair,
not directly to the fair, down near Jefferson. You know where Jefferson
is? The fair sits on Jefferson and Trumpet. We get on Jefferson to
cross over going into the gates and hear come the dogs. "Get back,
Niggers, get back." So a guy named Jesse Davis said, "We were
look for a job. We want to work at the fair." He said, "Naw,
Y'all want to work y'all go around to the back." So one of the brothers
that was with us said, "Naw, we're going to the fair. We're going
ride. We ain't going to look for no damn job." So they hit a couple
guys and pushed us back. And we backed up on a little hill and come
down this little incline there. So we were sitting there trying to
figure out what we were going to do. And the next thing we knew they
had turned the dogs loose on us. And this brother named Stan, he went
to Lanier. He ran track. So we all ran. I knew I couldn't outrun the
dogs so I stopped. A couple of other brothers stopped. We all stopped
except for one person and that was Stan. And Stan kept running and you
know he outran those dogs.
DW: Outran the dogs.
W: Now I know that's hard to
believe but I saw it with these eyes. He
outran them until the dogs just got tired. That's Amite Street. Stan
ran up the hill, which is Amite, crossed over State, went down State,
went all the way down to Lamar--if you can visualize where I'm coming
from here--all the way down to Lamar, took a right on Lamar which is
another little up incline, ran up that little hill, all the way down to
High Street, took a left on High, and that's where he lost the dogs,
somewhere in there. And that is the truth. And by time the dogs made
it back we had gotten up and went our different ways. Now that's a day
I won't forget. There are a few, but that's one that I will not forget.
DW: And that was in what '63
DW: Now let me ask you something
else. When they put those dogs, I
imagine they had German shepherds?
W: German shepherds.
DW: So what kind of reaction
would you have with dogs coming at you like
W: Man, those dogs would tear
you loose. They would tear your meat
apart. See, number 1, if the dogs had gotten us we'd probably been
eaten alive or damned near eaten alive because it takes the owner or the
trainer some time to get there to get that dog off you. So the dog's
never supposed to be taken off that leash. You're always supposed to
hold onto that dog. Once you take that off then that dog's going to out
run you and he's going to start tearing into you until his master comes
there and pull him off you. So from the distance where we were standing
from where he turned the dogs loose, man, there is no telling what would
have happened to us if we had not stopped. I'm glad I did; I just froze
and the dogs passed right by us. Somebody said don't run. I don't know
who said don't run, but I listened when they said don't run because I
knew I couldn't outrun those dogs. So I froze and everybody else did,
except for Stan and he ran off and left those dogs.
DW: So how many dogs were after
W: At least three. It could
have been four.
DW: They ran passed the group?
W: They ran passed the group.
DW: Trying to catch Stan?
W: Right. Right. So Stan said
that was his strategy. He said he knew
that he could outrun the dogs. He outran the dogs to save us, so he
said. But I do know the dogs passed us by. And they got into little
cars to try to go find the dogs. When we saw the police and the dogs
the dogs were
DW: The dogs were panting?
W: They nearly had to give
the dogs mouth-to-mouth.
DW: I've got to find this guy
Stan. We need Stan. We're going to find
Stan. But Stan at Lanier on the track team.
DW: Yes, we're still going
to try to look him up. Let me ask you this,
could you give me just a little bit more information on what
demonstrations you participated in? So you were in Barq's and the bread
company and the bus station and the water fountain. What other do you
think are important demonstrations that young folks were participating
in in Jackson? I mean just whatever you think.
W: Most of the young folks
participated in the lunch counter sit-ins.
We called it sit-ins.
DW: Where were they?
W: At Woolworth's, the bus
stations, Walgreen's, and drinking from the
fountain that read "White Only."
DW: Were there any demonstrations
that probably had more impact on you,
got more out of hand, that stood out from all?
W: I would say the bus station
with me. Because each time I would go
in, I went there, I was arrested there so many times until the waitress
said, "Oh no, not you again. I don't know why you keep coming back.
You know we're not going to serve you." So I'd sit there and look
she'd called the police. And the police would come in and it would be
one. One cop would come get me, put the handcuffs on me, and take me
downtown. I'd get out and go right back to the same bus company, same
stool if possible, and if the lady's there, "Oh not you." And
things that just stand out in my mind.
DW: What other national leaders
or organizers did you come in contact
W: Stokely Carmichael. In fact
I got to know Stokely very well. James
Lewis out of Atlanta.
DW: You say James Lewis?
W: I think that's his name.
He's an elected official there.
DW: You're talking about John
W: John Lewis. Okay.
DW: Was James Foreman coming
W: James Foreman.
DW: The head of CORE at that time was who?
DW: Who was the head of CORE
at that time? Was that Floyd McKitchenson?
W: It could have been. It could
have been. I'm really not sure. It
could have been.
DW: What contacts did you have
W: Personally, I didn't have
a personal. He probably didn't know me but
I knew him because he was Medgar. Only thing I can tell you about him
is he was a friendly, warm-hearted person. Whenever I saw him he
greeted me with a hi, hello, or goodbye. And basically that was it.
DW: Did you get involved with
the student youth league--the NAACP youth
W: I was involved with all
of it. The NAACP, in my opinion, back then
was just moving too slow. CORE and SNCC were
W: Yes, and they said, "Man,
look, let's go kick ass," more or less. I
remember this guy. He was a preacher. James Bevels.
DW: Bevels. Yes. Go ahead.
W: I pronounce it correctly?
DW: Bevels. Yes. Right.
W: We were in jail once. They
had this 3-bed cell and then they kicked
everybody's ass that came in that day. And I remember Bevels bleeding
from the forehead and someone started singing "We're Going To Do
the Spirit Say Do." He put a verse in there that had everybody just
real shook up and motivated to really kick ass. He would said "I'll
kick your ass if the spirit say kick," and he was a preacher. You
that inspired us man. The man said we're going to kick ass. And man we
were ready to kick ass and we started making all types of noises in
there. The jailer came in, though he didn't come in the jail, and told
us to shut up or he was going to go get some officers. And we kept
making noise, because we were ready. At that point if the officers had
come in there we were going to kick ass. And I guess they must have
figured well if we go in there they're going to kick our ass. So they
came up there with their little night sticks, but they never would open
the door. We dared them. Because any other time they'll open the door
and come in and just slap us all around. We wouldn't do anything.
Right? On this particular day we dared them to come in. We said, "Now
you're bad. Come up in here. We dare you." And they never did open
the door and come in. That's another highlight that'll stick with me
for a long time.
DW: I know we talked a little
bit about history and problems today.
What do you think came out of the Jackson Movement here? How do you
think it's changed our thinking and our social?
W: I think it had a great impact
on the way we, or some of us, were
doing things back then and 10 years maybe even 20 years thereafter. But
the impact that we made back then seems to have been flushed down the
commode now in terms of these kids. A person like my child, I never
would allow my child to do, and he's grown, when I say allow it means
just that allow, my child to do some of the things I see other kids or
other young adults around here doing now. We took a wrong turn in
parenthood and I think the law has a lot to do with it; but you really
can't put it on the law, just put it on the individual, on the adult,
the parent. Your child or your children are going to be what you allow
them to be and that's the way I was taught. Sometimes I think the
ass-whippings that I took, the times that I sat in jail, the mosquitoes
that bit me, all the other things that I went through--for what? The
White man was lynching a few of us at a time. They hear about a
lynching in Mississippi, Alabama every now and then. You pick the paper
up now, we are killing each other. So the White man is saying now we
don't have to do it. We'll sit back. They're going to destroy
themselves. That's the sad part of this whole thing, Man, not only with
myself whereas my ass was whipped, but look at the brothers and sisters
who lost their lives, look at the brothers and sisters who lost property
behind this. We lost a lot, a lot of stuff to give us the right so we
could get a quality education. Let me just rephrase that because I
think I picked that word up from somebody. I used the words quality
education. I think that I was quality educated and I think there were
others who were quality educated in these Black institutions and Black
schools. I went to all Black schools. I went to all Black swimming
pools. The only time I was at an integrated pool was at the University
of Southern Illinois at Carbondale and that was my first time
DW: When was that? What year
W: In the '70's, way after
the Movement in '70, '71.
DW: What did you major in there?
W: Environmental science. But
the point that I'm trying to make is
there are a lot of Blacks who have gone to whatever Black schools and
turned out great. I used to preach integration, I've gone to jail for
integration, I've gotten my ass whipped for integration, but I think
integration might be the worst thing that happened to us. Busing was
bad for us. Hell, I'd walk 10 or 12 miles to school everyday in the
rain, in the cold. It'd give you something to look forward to. It'd
give you an inner feeling that I'm out here to make it better. When you
make it easy for a person, they don't know what it is for it to be
hard. You've heard this thing about climbing up on the rough side of
the mountain. Well these kids, they don't even climb. They take the
elevator on the mountain. So they don't know what it's like. They
don't know what we went through. You try to tell them. It's been
documentary after documentary on TV about the struggle. They know about
Medgar, they know about Martin, they know about Chaney, they know about
the other brothers and sisters who have gone through. It doesn't mean
anything. And that's the thing there that makes you want to just throw
up both hands and say, "Why? Why did I do this; because things are
better now. They are not better for me." You know as a Black person
you have to be committed to what you go in. You have to look over your
shoulder. I'm talking about around your own race. This shouldn't be.
You know I'm more afraid of these young kids that come in my store here
than I am any adults, because I figure I can reason with the adults.
But there is no way--School is out. I need to be up front. How close
DW: The only thing that I need
to probably ask you about is your
experience after Vietnam when you came back to Jackson?
W: I left 'Nam and went directly
DW: After you got out of the
service, when did you come back to Jackson?
W: About '72, '73.