An Oral History


Reverend Johnny Barbour Jr.


Clara M. Barbour

Interviewer: Donald Williams

Tougaloo College Archives

This interview was transcribed as part of the Civil Rights Documentation Project.

Funding for this project was provided in part by the Mississippi

Humanities Council, the National Endowment for the Humanities, and

the Mississippi Department of Archives and History.



Reverend Johnny Barbour Jr. was born in Greenwood, Mississippi in 1940; his father worked at the lumber mill and owned a small farm. Mrs. Clara Barbour was born in Bay St. Louis, Mississippi in 1942. Both Reverend and Mrs. Barbour attended Campbell Junior College in Jackson; he majored in religion and philosophy and she majored in business administration, and secretarial practice and procedure. While attending Campbell Junior College, Reverend Barbour was the president of the intercollegiate chapter of the NAACP. He was one of four Jackson students who integrated the city buses of Jackson and the Jackson Zoo, as well as participating in other demonstrations during Medgar Evers' tenure as the NAACP's field secretary in Mississippi.

After their initial two years at Campbell College, Reverend Barbour and Mrs. Barbour entered The University of Southern Mississippi where they earned degrees in business administration. The Barbours arrived in Meridian on the day that slain civil rights workers James Chaney, Andrew Goodman, and Micky Schwerner were reported missing, and Reverend Barbour met with Mrs. Chaney, a member of his church.

Reverend Barbour served as coordinator for the NAACP in Meridian, Mississippi as well as NAACP coordinator for voter registration and education for the state of Mississippi. Both Reverend and Mrs. Barbour were active in canvassing from door to door, to get people ready to vote. Mrs. Barbour worked in the NAACP office in Meridian, lending her volunteer support to administrative duties, including filing, documentation of statistics, addresses, telephone numbers, telephone calls, and production of educational materials.

Reverend Barbour is currently the pastor of Grove Street A.M.E. Church in Jackson. The Barbours have one son.

Table of Contents

Arrival in Jackson in 1957, 1985 2

Attendance at Campbell Junior College 2

Attendance at The University of Southern Mississippi 3

Integration of Jackson zoo 5

NAACP coordinator in Meridian 6

Integration of Jackson city buses 7

Arrival in Meridian on the day Chaney, Goodman, and

Schwerner were reported missing 8

Churches' roles in voter registration and education 10

Integration of Meridian High School 11

Door-to-door canvassing 16

Charles Evers 20

Obie Clark 22

Police intimidation in Yazoo City 27




This is an interview for the Civil Rights Documentation Project. The interview is with Reverend Johnny Barbour Jr. and Clara M. Barbour and is taking place on January 25, 1999. The interviewer is Don Williams.

Williams: How long have you been here in Jackson?

Johnny Barbour: This time? This round?

Williams: Yes, sir.

Johnny Barbour: Thirteen years.

Williams: And then, you originally came from where?

Johnny Barbour: I'm originally from Greenwood, Mississippi.

Williams: Now, I'm going to get this started. Today is January 25, in Jackson, Mississippi, and I am talking with Reverend Barbour and Mrs. Clara Barbour. Reverend Barbour, where were you born?

Johnny Barbour: Greenwood, Mississippi.

Williams: In Greenwood. And Mrs. Barbour, where were you born?

Clara Barbour: Bay St. Louis, Mississippi.

Williams: Bay St. Louis.

(A segment regarding scheduling of the interview is not included in this typed transcript.)

Williams: Reverend Barbour, what is your date of birth?

Johnny Barbour: April 1, 1940.

Williams: And Mrs. Barbour, your birth date?

Clara Barbour: January 14, 1942.

Williams: OK. Reverend Barbour, when did you first come to Jackson?

Johnny Barbour: Nineteen fifty-seven.

Williams: What about you, Mrs. Barbour?

Clara Barbour: Nineteen sixty.

Williams: What other places have you lived outside of Jackson?

Johnny Barbour: Oh, we've lived in Yazoo City, Meridian.

Clara Barbour: Fayette.

Johnny Barbour: Fayette, Mississippi, Laurel, Mississippi, Shreveport, Louisiana, and now we are back in Jackson.

Williams: So you are presently the pastor of?

Johnny Barbour: Grove Street A.M.E. Church.

Williams: And how long have you been pastor there?

Johnny Barbour: Thirteen years.

Williams: That was?

Johnny Barbour: Eighty-five.

Williams: 1985. OK. When you first came to Jackson, was that to go to school or what?

Johnny Barbour: I was a student at Campbell College.

Williams: Campbell College. Do you remember what year that was?

Johnny Barbour: I came in fifty-seven.

Clara Barbour: I came in sixty.

Williams: In sixty. OK. And what did you major in at college?

Clara Barbour: I majored in business administration, secretarial practice and procedure.

Johnny Barbour: Religion and philosophy.

Williams: Campbell College. That was a two-year college at the time, wasn't it?

Johnny Barbour: Correct.

Clara Barbour: Junior college.

Williams: Was it like a feeder college into Jackson State University?

Johnny Barbour: No.

Williams: It was just a religious college?

Johnny Barbour: It was a private school owned by the A.M.E. Church.

Williams: OK. So did you get a divinity degree at the time?

Johnny Barbour: I had a (inaudible) degree.

Williams: OK. Did you attend any post-graduate school?

Johnny Barbour: I went on to The University of Southern Mississippi.

Williams: University of Southern Mississippi?

Johnny Barbour: In Hattiesburg.

Williams: Did you get a degree from there?

Johnny Barbour: In business administration.

Williams: Business administration. OK. And did you have any other studies outside of Campbell College?

Clara Barbour: University of Southern Mississippi.

Williams: Oh. OK. And what was your major there?

Clara Barbour: Same thing.

Williams: OK. Business. And do you remember what year that was?

Johnny Barbour: Sixty-seven, we got back to (inaudible). Wasn't it sixty-seven? It was sixty-seven. We moved back to Laurel, Mississippi, twenty-seven miles from Hattiesburg.

Williams: OK. Now, when did you first go to Meridian?

Johnny Barbour: I went to Meridian on the same day that Michael Schwerner and Andrew Goodman were missing. That same Sunday I went there to be the pastor.

Williams: And the name of your church was Alan Chapel A.M.E. Church.

Clara Barbour: That was in latter July, wasn't it?

Johnny Barbour: Yes.

Clara Barbour: July.

Williams: Can you spell it? You say Alan?

Johnny Barbour: Alan. A-L-A-N.

Williams: Chapel.

Johnny Barbour: A.M.E. Church. Alan Chapel.

Williams: Now, Mrs. Chaney, was that family part of your church?

Johnny Barbour: Mrs. Chaney and her daughters were members of Alan Chapel.

Williams: And Chaney himself?

Johnny Barbour: He was Catholic.

Williams: OK.

Johnny Barbour: He was a member of the Catholic church.

Williams: OK. What organizations do you think were important during this period of time when you got to Meridian in sixty-seven?

Johnny Barbour: NAACP, Southern Christian Leadership Conference, student nonviolent movement were all in full force at that time.

Williams: Why would you say the NAACP was important?

Johnny Barbour: Well, I've always been a member of the NAACP. I was the president of the intercollegiate chapter when I was a student at Campbell College here in Jackson. And we participated in the very first demonstration. You probably remember--

(There is a brief interruption from a ringing telephone.)

Williams: Pick up from that--

Johnny Barbour: You can remember the Tougaloo Nine who integrated the library?

Williams: Yes.

Johnny Barbour: And then shortly after that we had the four Jackson students who integrated the bus, city bus of Jackson.

Williams: Right.

Johnny Barbour: Well, I was one of the boys. Two boys and two girls.

Williams: Do you remember their names?

Johnny Barbour: I sure don't.

Williams: Well, we'll come up with the names.

Johnny Barbour: The office probably downtown could tell you their names anyway. And there were the four of us. And that was during the time when Medgar Evers, when he was field secretary, and we participated in various demonstrations. Like the zoo. Integrating the Jackson Zoo. That's when they had taken the benches out of the zoo so we couldn't sit down. And we had a long (inaudible). They put the dogs on us. And Campbell College and Tougaloo were perhaps the only safe havens you had. You couldn't go to Jackson State in those days. It was a state school and they didn't get involved in such. So, we all knew they gathered around Tougaloo or Campbell College, in those days.

Williams: OK. So when you got to Meridian, you essentially had some movement experience.

Johnny Barbour: Oh yes. I had been involved in the movement all my days.

Williams: OK. Now, when you first got to Meridian, what was your impression of Meridian?

Johnny Barbour: Well, I arrived there that day and Mrs. Chaney, you know, being a member of my congregation, I went over to see about her. But I knew Charles Young, Darden, and that group because of our involvement in the civil rights movement all the time. So I joined in with them, James Bishop, and met a guy named Albert Jones, who was very active in civil rights in those days. And you had the long, hot summer. I don't know whether you remember that or not. That was when the kids came from everywhere to emerge on the state of Mississippi. And I was coordinator for the NAACP in Meridian, Mississippi. Had an office up over the Fielder Building.

Williams: You say Fielder Building?

Johnny Barbour: Yes. Fielder's Drugstore.

Williams: Fielder's Drugstore. Was it a black-owned drugstore?

Johnny Barbour: Yes. Mr. Fielder owned the drugstore and he had owned that building on that (inaudible). His son lives here in Jackson I think now and is still in practice. Goes over to Mississippi State and so forth. Al Fielder is his name. And we had the NAACP office up over that building. And I managed that office all the while the movement was going. And from there I became the coordinator for voter registration and education for the state of Mississippi with the NAACP. And when Vernon Dahmer was killed, I went to Hattiesburg. We concentrated on that particular area. And stayed for quite a while, conducting voter registration all over the state, but basically we wanted visibility in Hattiesburg.

Williams: Let me just regress. I want to just get a little bit about Greenwood and then I want to jump back and pick up where we left off. Greenwood. What was it like coming up in Greenwood? Did you live in the city? Were you living out in the country?

Johnny Barbour: I lived in what they called the buckeye. In other words, the buckeye is just before you cross the river bridge going to Mississippi Valley State across the Yazoo River. And we always had a fairly decent life and I was just involved in things.

Williams: What did your father do?

Johnny Barbour: My father worked at the lumber[?] mill and had his own little farm.

Williams: OK. And your mom?

Johnny Barbour: My mom was a housewife.

Williams: What about you, Mrs. Barbour? You came up in Bay St. Louis. Was that in the city or in the country?

Clara Barbour: I didn't come up in Bay St. Louis. I was born in Bay St. Louis. I was reared, as a small child, in Waveland, Mississippi. That's just a few miles from Bay St. Louis and then I moved to Louisiana, to a little town called Spring Hill, Louisiana. But I learned about racism in Waveland. At a very small, early age, I learned quite a bit about racism.

Williams: Can you tell me your first impression and what was the most dramatic kind of experience that stays in your mind about racism? About race relations?

Johnny Barbour: I'll tell you something I remember. As a boy, you know, if you would go to, well, there was no MacDonald's or Burger King but the same kind of situation, you couldn't go in those places. And, they had a separate window that you had to go to. And that window was usually on the side or the back. It wasn't on the front of the building. And you had to go to that separate window to buy whatever you had to buy. That always bothered me. That I couldn't go inside that place and buy what I wanted to buy. But I had to spend money there. I spent my money there.

And another kind of thing that bothered me was the bus. They had a sign on the bus, "Colored." Where you go to the back. And the more white folks got on the bus, the further back you had to go. And if they got enough of them on there you had to stand up. You could be on there first and have your seat, but the more white folks got on that bus, the further you went and you had to stand up. I guess that is what prompted me to be in the first city bus demonstration here in Jackson.

And I can remember that day. Right down in front of Deposit Guaranty Bank. Downtown. When we got on that bus and got on those front seats. And they asked us to get up and we wouldn't get up. The bus driver begged us to get up and we wouldn't get up. And then he went and called the police and they put us in that jail downtown. And the late Jack Young Sr. was the attorney for the NAACP and he got us out on that particular day. Of course, many times Jack had to get us out of jail when we demonstrated. Through the NAACP. He was an attorney for the NAACP. I went up to --

(The interview is briefly interrupted by a ringing telephone.)

Johnny Barbour: No, I didn't have any transportation in particular. I used to ride the bus, Trailway bus, and it was the same kind of situation that had the sign on it. And it was moveable. They'd move it when they got ready. And just moved you on back. And you paid the same money everybody else paid.

Williams: Now when you say Trailway, would they go interstate?

Johnny Barbour: Yes, it was going interstate and I used to ride that bus. Went down from Greenwood to Winona. I was pastoring in Winona and I can remember the first time when I went in the white side, so-called white side, of the bus, especially when the laws on public accommodations were passed. And you had these guys who were right funny-looking. They just couldn't stand such. Racism has just been real with me all of my life and my dad, my granddad always told me that I was just as good and just as important as anybody else in the world. And I think that prompted me to keep pressing on.

Williams: Yes. Let me go back to Meridian now. You got to Meridian, your first day there as the pastor of Alan Chapel, and you went to see Mrs. Chaney.

Johnny Barbour: Yes.

Williams: Can you tell me a little bit about that?

Johnny Barbour: Well, of course, her son was, you know, missing and everything. And I went over as a pastor to talk with her and let her know we were praying with her and all that kind of thing. Stayed there quite a long time with her. Matter of fact, I stayed so long, for some reason, I wasn't in my car. And the bus, I didn't know it stopped running at a certain time. And I had to walk from one extreme to another, across town that evening. But it was in a pastoral duty along with the fact that I was concerned and active in civil rights from the very beginning anyway. We did everything we could and when they finally discovered their bodies and everything, a Catholic priest performed the eulogy for him and buried him.

Williams: Was that at your church?

Johnny Barbour: We didn't have anything but a graveside situation. James Bishop with Enterprise Funeral Home was handling the body and the two of us, the Catholic priest and myself--

Williams: What was his name?

Johnny Barbour: I don't remember his name. We're talking about thirty-something years ago.

Williams: OK. So it was a white Catholic priest. OK. We'll find that. We've got that in the records.

Johnny Barbour: Yes. He and myself, we did the service and everything.

Williams: What was the general reaction of your parishioners? And black folks and white folks in Meridian, once they found out that the three workers had been murdered?

Johnny Barbour: Well, you know, civil rights was just moving in, focusing on the thing. And there were those who had their fears and there were those who had enough courage to come forward and be a part of the marches and to be a part of the mass services and all of that. When Dr. Martin Luther King would come for a mass meeting and all that. One of the things he always liked to hear them sing was--. Was it "Precious Lord" or "Amazing Grace?"

Clara Barbour: "Precious Lord."

Johnny Barbour: "Precious Lord, take my hand." And Mrs. Barbour used to sing that solo at the mass meetings for Dr. King and everything. But you had a pretty good turnout in Meridian. People were pretty active overall. You've got to understand it was the sixties, and you didn't have just a whole cluster of folks just jumping out the windows. But you did have a nice group of people who were really concerned. I can remember Mrs. Heidelberg and people like that who were involved and active in the civil rights movement. Quite a few of them. And there was, like with First Union Church, and now probably Kornegay has told you about First Union. We had most of our meetings at First Union and there were times we had to guard that church. I mean literally walk with shotguns when they would threaten to bomb it and all of that.

Williams: Intimidation. That's something that I would like to talk about. How frightened were the black community and black leadership in Meridian and what are some of the things that happened?

Johnny Barbour: We were frightened. Like they would throw these bombs (inaudible), you know. I went to my little church one Sunday and they had thrown a bomb in the window because we were housing things for the civil rights movement and all that. And I can remember one day a guy called and said that he was going to burn a cross on my lawn. I never shall forget that. I was coordinator for voter registration and education and it came out, you know, all in the paper and everything. That I was going to take over and do that. And he was going to burn a cross, he said, on the yard. And, you know, your family. I had a little son, my wife, all of these things. Really, you know, it gives you a certain feeling that you are really not comfortable with, and especially when you have decided to take on this situation and be nonviolent which means that you are kind of vulnerable to a lot of things.

Williams: I want to ask you two things. I want to ask you about Dr. King and Charles Evers. You mentioned that Dr. King would come to Meridian for mass meetings. Can you tell me a little about--?

Johnny Barbour: He came right after the civil rights boys, the three guys, were missing and walked the streets there, went in the pool rooms and different places, talked to people, and was our speaker for mass meetings and everything.

Williams: You mentioned that you would store certain supplies for the civil rights movement and you were doing voter registration. What are some of the other things that your church was involved in, in the movement?

Johnny Barbour: Well, see, one other thing. We had to meet and we had to do a training process of getting people to register and to vote and all of these kinds of things. And even carried them down there because people were afraid, you know. And if you would add some support, moral support, once they had gone through and prepared doing everything for it, by carrying them, transportation and physically stand beside them while they would register to vote and everything.

Williams: Yes. Now, you said that you had to kind of train them. Would you have certain kinds of classes? What were some of your classes called?

Johnny Barbour: Well, you come with things like telling people how to mark ballots, how to fill out applications and all of these things, particularly old people who were willing to do and so forth. Who needed this imaginary situation before they would go down so they would know what to expect.

Clara Barbour: You know, they had to answer those questions at that time, too.

Williams: OK.

Johnny Barbour: Yes, they had questions on there, you know, you didn't just--

Clara Barbour: --That the black people had to answer. Had to teach them how to do all that. It was outlawed, but they had it back then.

Johnny Barbour: And then when it was outlawed was when I went to do the voter registration thing when you didn't have the federal registrars and all that thing and that made a big difference.

Williams: OK. Were you ever involved in the black and proud schools, the liberation schools, at your church?

Johnny Barbour: No.

Williams: No. What kind of relationship did you have with other churches, other ministers in Meridian and who was important.

Johnny Barbour: In Meridian?

Williams: Yes.

Johnny Barbour: Well, Reverend Porter, the one that's in that picture there, with Jackie Robinson[?], his church was basically our main headquarters. And we had C.O. Inge--

Williams: What church was that?

Johnny Barbour: That was First Union Church and Mrs. Chaney lived right down the street from First Union. And, of course, the church I pastored--

Clara Barbour: Johnson. What about him?

Johnny Barbour: No, his church was very small in those days. We'd go to--. What was Reverend Inge's church named?

Clara Barbour: Was it New Hope?

Johnny Barbour: New Hope Baptist Church on some occasions. We had a fairly good group of ministers. There was Charles Johnson who came to Meridian while I was there with Church of the Nazarene and who became active in the civil rights movement and everything.

Clara Barbour: Yes, that's who I was talking about.

Johnny Barbour: He came from Florida to Meridian awhile.

Williams: Did you know Reverend Inge?

Johnny Barbour: Yes. I knew C.O. Inge.

Williams: Let me ask you a little bit about when they integrated Meridian High School. What was happening in Meridian then, particularly in your church, as a result of that?

Johnny Barbour: Well, all of us were, you know, we were organized to a great point and we knew when we were going, the kids who were going and everything and we were prepared to support them and do everything that we could to keep things moving with them. Like I said, most of our meetings down at First Union, particularly the largest ones, because it was a large church and we could get more people in there and everything and we basically would give good moral support, selected the kids that were able to, you know, go through such trauma and everything. And moved on from there.

Williams: Were there any relationships with, let's say, the white power structure or significant white individuals that worked with you during this period of time?

Johnny Barbour: That's one of the things about Meridian. You did have a group of whites who were quite liberal, if you would call it liberal, in those days. Because I can remember the time when we integrated the hotels and restaurants and they didn't put up a lot of resistance. Matter of fact, Weidmann's Restaurant, which was very famous then, my wife and I, we were the first ones that went there to eat. I carried her for Mother's Day.

Williams: Do you remember what year that was?

Johnny Barbour: What was it?

Clara Barbour: Must have been sixty-five.

Johnny Barbour: Sixty-five, right. But we were the first ones to go there. And I carried her for Mother's Day down there to eat. And we had no real problem. Charles Young, myself, a group of us went out to the Holiday Inn to eat and whatever. We had no real resistance as it relates to the power structure in Meridian. We had folks like Bill Ready[?], Sonny Montgomery, people like that who were really liberal to a great extent at that time.

Williams: Now Bill Ready was who?

Johnny Barbour: He was a white attorney, who is there now. Bill's there now. I don't know what he is doing now. I saw him not too long ago on a plane. We were coming from some place.

Williams: So, what's your relationship now with Bill Ready.

Johnny Barbour: OK. You know, just distance and time makes quite a difference. I just happened to be on the plane and he was on the plane. And I recognized him and said to him, "Aren't you Bill Ready."

He said, "Yes. Aren't you Johnny Barbour?" You know. He was coming from some place.

Clara Barbour: But you haven't seen him for a lot of years.

Johnny Barbour: I don't see him often. No. You know, just like, flying. I'm sure somebody probably mentioned him. Charles or somebody.

Williams: Yes. I'm just trying to get everybody's impression and then put everything together. You know Charles Young?

Johnny Barbour: I don't know what the case is with Bill now. But I do--.

Williams: Yes. What was Sonny Montgomery at that time? What position did he hold?

Johnny Barbour: What was Sonny at that time?

Clara Barbour: Was he in Jackson or Meridian?

Johnny Barbour: Sonny Montgomery was in the Meridian area, as I remember. I don't really remember.

Williams: But he eventually ends up being the Congressman for that area.

Johnny Barbour: Yes.

Williams: OK. Do you remember the mayor at the time? Or police chief?

Johnny Barbour: The police chief. I can't think of his name but I can remember him and he--. You know you could go down--. Was it Gunn?

Williams: Gunn. Right.

Johnny Barbour: Yes. Chief Gunn. That was his name. I thought it was something like that. Chief Gunn. And you could always talk with him. And he was open to discuss and do things with you and wasn't just a downright racist, I don't guess. You know, because he was open and I can't say he was a great liberal, either. But I remember Chief Gunn.

Williams: What about the mayor? How did you get along with the mayor?

Clara Barbour: I don't know anything about the mayor.

Johnny Barbour: He was okay, I guess. I'm trying to think who he was.

Clara Barbour: I don't remember a thing about the mayor.

Johnny Barbour: But Gunn came to my mind. But who was the mayor at that time? I don't know who the mayor was.

Williams: Was he a Jewish fellow?

Johnny Barbour: Yes. Rosenbaum?

Williams: Yes, something like that. We'll find the name.

Johnny Barbour: One of those names something like that. Rosenbaum. I think something like that.

Williams: Now, from talking with Charles Young and talking with Dr. Kornegay, there seemed to be a certain type of leadership in Meridian: the business and the well-established professional persons. I talked to Mrs. Polk, Dr. Polk's wife, and she is quite a character. But let me ask you this: how did you see the leadership role in Meridian and dealing with black folks and white folks?

Johnny Barbour: You had a relationship. I think the blacks and the whites had a kind of a relationship. At least they could talk. You had a group that was interested in talking and trying to solve their problems and keep them from really getting out of proportion, I think. I can think of some. That group of business people, the doctors and undertakers, the black ones, and that group and then along with some of those who were city officials and so forth that you could at least talk to and were a bit reasonable along the line of (inaudible). And then there were some folks we could talk to quite a bit all along. White business folks, all that kind of thing.

(End of tape one, side one. The interview continues on tape one, side two.)

Williams: Let me ask you this now. What do you think was the most important thing that occurred in Meridian in terms of bringing about civil rights? Or what period of time?

Johnny Barbour: I guess it was during that period right after those civil rights boys were killed, those four boys. I think it brought the city together to some extent. Everybody was focusing on trying to create a better image for the city of Meridian and that was black and white, I think. Worked together to try to bring about a better image. That this really wasn't Meridian. That it happened in Philadelphia. You know, A,B,C,D. That the real makeup of Meridian was a more liberal and better situation even at that particular time. And then the marches and things that we had and demonstrations, they never put our folk in jail or anything like that, as I can remember. I don't remember them ever stopping you from marching in a peaceful demonstration and that kind of thing in Meridian. But during that period I guess was really the height of the city of Meridian and the South. Because you had a lot of newspaper folk coming in. You had noted speakers coming in. Like Jackie Robinson the senator that came in. Dr. King. You know. People from the national office of the NAACP.

Williams: Give me some more names.

Johnny Barbour: Harold Strickland. Harold is dead now. And from the student nonviolent movement. A lot of folk came in from that.

Clara Barbour: Didn't he come, the man that was something, what was he, in the NAACP?

Johnny Barbour: Roy Wilkins?

Clara Barbour: Yes. Didn't he come to Meridian?

Johnny Barbour: Yes. There were all kinds of people coming in to speak to us, and so forth. And it worked out. One of those days that we don't really like to think about but at least it wasn't as bad as some places.

Williams: Yes. What was your relationship with SNCC?

Johnny Barbour: I never was really involved too much with SNCC other than the support factor. When we had the long, hot summer, you know, all of us came together. All of the civil rights organizations.

Williams: The COFO organization?

Clara Barbour: We dealt with COFO more, didn't we?

Johnny Barbour: COFO was in Meridian, yes. That was the group that brought Goodman and Farmer [or Forman?] to Meridian. And we all worked together, you know, as a group and so forth. But I was never really a member of SNCC. I was always with the NAACP.

Williams: Yes. Now, was there any conflict between the organizations in terms of involvement?

Johnny Barbour: We had our minor differences but it wasn't anything that created a great problem, I don't think. We were able to work together to a great extent. You know, there was the older group of more conservative blacks, I guess, who said, "Well, we ought to negotiate to work it out."

And then there were those in that young group who said, "Let's go and demonstrate and do A,B,C,D in order to get our point over." We had those kinds of things, but we worked them out.

Williams: Well, you were a pretty young minister at that time weren't you? How old were you?

Johnny Barbour: I was young at that time, but I was still more conservative because I had been involved with the NAACP all of my youth, even in college, and everything, as president of the collegiate chapter. So I guess I kind of leaned more toward the NAACP because I worked with Medgar and all that. We went around from place to place, doing things and so forth. Organizing chapters and things. So I guess I leaned that way. Dr. Aaron Henry would go (inaudible) places. So I kind of leaned toward the NAACP.

Clara Barbour: They were older--

Johnny Barbour: They were all older than me. Like Charles Young and Kornegay and all, but we worked together. They were older than me but we all worked together, you know.

Clara Barbour: Charles wasn't that much older than you, though.

Johnny Barbour: Charles is a lot older than I am.

Clara Barbour: He's older, but I mean, not like Aaron Henry.

Johnny Barbour: He's about ten years older than I am. Kornegay, too.

Clara Barbour: He was about twenty. You started--

Williams: He's seventy-six.

Clara Barbour: You started in your early, early twenties. Since before we were married.

Johnny Barbour: See, I've been involved in civil rights most of my life.

Clara Barbour: Before we married.

Williams: Did you ever go into the Service or anything like that?

Johnny Barbour: No.

Williams: Can you tell me a little bit about what happened in the long, hot summer in Meridian?

Clara Barbour: Oh, the canvassing.

Johnny Barbour: Canvassing from door to door. We'd get people ready to vote.

Clara Barbour: People came from California.

Johnny Barbour: We had people who came, you know, from all over the country--

Clara Barbour: Canada.

Johnny Barbour: --and all over the state. We had one guy from Canada, that's right, who was with us working there. We canvassed and went from door to door and tried to get as many people to register as we possibly could. And we did a good job in Meridian. And I think that's why they chose me to be the coordinator for the state and voter registration because we were able to do a real good job in Lauderdale County, not just Meridian. And areas around there. We worked all of that area.

Clara Barbour: We didn't have a lot violence. We didn't have any fighting, and stuff like that, either.

Johnny Barbour: We didn't have a lot of opposition in our area and we were able to get (inaudible).

Clara Barbour: Like here in Jackson.

Williams: OK. When all these folks descended on Meridian, who coordinated that activity? Who did the management, the planning?

Johnny Barbour: In the long, hot summer?

Williams: Yes.

Johnny Barbour: I coordinated it. I ended up being the coordinator. Not for the SNCC thing now, but when we had what we call the long, hot summer.

Clara Barbour: The freedom riders came.

Johnny Barbour: Yes. That was after the freedom riders, but I coordinated it out of that particular area. Harold Strickland came with us. We had the guy from Canada. We had a lady from Riverside--

Clara Barbour: California.

Johnny Barbour: --California.

Clara Barbour: Worked in our office.

Johnny Barbour: And we had five or six others.

Clara Barbour: That was in the office.

Johnny Barbour: Yes, who came and worked with us out of our office. And SNCC had an office right around the corner in the Whitlock Building. Right around the corner. We were on Fifth Street, you know, Fielder Building here, and then, right in front of Charles Young's hotel, SNCC had their office there, too. But we all were able to work together pretty well.

Williams: What was the name of Charles Young's hotel?

Johnny Barbour: Young's Hotel. It was right there on the corner of Fifth and I don't remember what street that is.

Clara Barbour: I can't remember, either. He had those beauty products.

Johnny Barbour: Yes. Had a barber and beauty shop there, too.

Williams: Do you remember any of the names of the SNCC people that were around the corner from you? Was Dave Dennis over there then?

Johnny Barbour: Rita, I remember.

Williams: Bob Moses, was he there? Or Garcia?

Johnny Barbour: Came in some, but I don't think--. Wasn't stationed there just per se at the time we were there.

Clara Barbour: I think Mrs. Heidelberg worked with that group, didn't she?

Johnny Barbour: Yes.

Clara Barbour: Yes. Polly Heidelberg.

Williams: Tell me a little bit about Polly Heidelberg. Kornegay told me about her, but I want to hear--

Johnny Barbour: Mrs. Heidelberg was an interesting person.

Clara Barbour: She was into it. (Laughter)

Johnny Barbour: She really worked very hard and did everything she possibly could. I guess Mrs. Heidelberg would be almost a hundred years old, now. And she was a lady of age at that time. And to be a lady of her age and to be as actively involved in civil rights as Polly Heidelberg was, it was a remarkable thing. And I mean, she marched. She did everything anybody else did. And helped to get people registered. And I'm not too sure [whether] Ms. Heidelberg could read or not. I'm not too sure if she could or not. But was very active and she just was forthright in getting things done.

Williams: So, would you say she was a catalyst or a spark plug?

Johnny Barbour: Yes. Have to. Yes.

Clara Barbour: The whole town knew Polly Heidelberg.

Williams: Someone told me a story about this guy went in and was supposed to take a test in order to vote, a literacy test, an examination, here, and he wrote some vulgar statement on the paper and they ended up prosecuting him for it down at the courthouse. Do you remember that incident?

Clara Barbour: That was in Meridian?

Williams: In Meridian, yes. And Mrs. Heidelberg, she went down there and raised Cain at the courthouse. You don't remember that particular thing? Dr. Kornegay told me about it.

Johnny Barbour: Probably happened, but I just don't remember. And I could have been in some other part of the state conducting voter registration.

Clara Barbour: You could have been gone by then. Because you know later you put your office in Jackson.

Johnny Barbour: Yes. Because, Charles was the field secretary and I was the voter registration coordinator at the Masonic Temple down there. So I could have been anywhere in the state conducting (inaudible).

Williams: OK. Do you remember when Medgar was beat up on the bus? Wasn't he coming out of Meridian at that time or something? Do you know the particulars?

Johnny Barbour: He was coming from that particular area. I'm not too sure. Was it directly out of Meridian?

Williams: I think Doris Smith told me that they had an NAACP meeting in Meridian and then he got on the bus and then the cab driver caught up with the bus--.

Johnny Barbour: Well now, at that time I was in Yazoo City.

Williams: Oh, I see.

Johnny Barbour: I wasn't in Meridian.

Clara Barbour: I was fixing to say we were in Yazoo City.

Johnny Barbour: No. I was in Yazoo City at that time.

Williams: Do you know Doris Smith? I interviewed Doris Smith, too. Her and her sister.

Johnny Barbour: I'm trying to remember was Doris Smith or her sister one of those involved in the bus demonstration? No, I don't guess so.

Williams: Doris was everywhere. Matter of fact, she was on the bus coming out of Meridian. They were coming from a meeting in Meridian, an NAACP meeting, and she was on the bus with--.

Clara Barbour: You were in college when you did that bus demonstration here.

Johnny Barbour: I know that, but I'm talking (inaudible). I wasn't in Meridian at that time.

Clara Barbour: No, Medgar was dead when we went to Meridian.

Williams: Tell me a little bit about Charles when he took over and how you worked with him out of the Meridian area.

Johnny Barbour: Well, you know it was quite a difference between Charles and Medgar.

Clara Barbour: Oh, yes.

Johnny Barbour: Medgar was a diplomat, you know.

Clara Barbour: Quiet.

Johnny Barbour: Polished, and all that. Not to say Charles was not polished.

Clara Barbour: Nonviolent.

Johnny Barbour: But Medgar, you know, he was polished and then would work it out

in a diplomatic way.

Clara Barbour: Nonviolent.

Johnny Barbour: And then Charles, after Medgar was killed and Charles came, he was more of an activist. He just went out after it, full force. And I remember when I first went to Fayette. I went to Fayette with Charles one time and he was just, you know, talking about white folks like they had two tails, in a little country place where white folks looked like they wanted to eat black folks, you know. I think he did an excellent job. He fulfilled the time in which he was field secretary and got a lot done. A lot of voter registration boomed and everything, when Charles came in because he was just an activist. He just went out at it. Didn't look like he was afraid of anything. But I've talked to him since then about the time we used to march at night and all that stuff. He said he was afraid. All of us were. (Laughter) We just didn't have much sense in those days. And inspired a lot of folks to go ahead, and just, you know--.

Clara Barbour: It's just a different person.

Johnny Barbour: You don't have but one time to die and you may as well go at it and move it then.

Williams: Have you read his book Have No Fear?

Johnny Barbour: No, I haven't read that one. I read the other one. Yes, we only have one time to die. I'm not too sure that Charles was so much nonviolent, though. I never got that impression of him that he was.

Clara Barbour: No. Charles Evers wasn't nonviolent.

Johnny Barbour: I didn't consider him being too nonviolent.

Williams: He still carries a pistol.

Johnny Barbour: Yes.

Williams: He said he brought his boys in here.

Johnny Barbour: Yes, he did. I remember those boys, Rudy Shields and--.

Clara Barbour: That was when we had that boycott. (Laughter)

Johnny Barbour: I remember that.

Clara Barbour: They'd blackout that boycott.

Williams: So he was considered as an enforcer.

Johnny Barbour: Oh, yes. I see him; we talk every now and then, now. We talked about having a reunion of all the folks who were involved in those days. We just haven't put it together yet. He said he is going to pay for it. I'm all into it.

Williams: That would be something really nice to do. To tape and film that whole thing. And make that available to all the black--.

Johnny Barbour: Because (inaudible), there won't be many of us left.

Williams: Well, you're still pretty young.

Johnny Barbour: But I can name a host of folks who've gone on, though. You know, there was that lady at the Carthage (inaudible) there, that I used to live at her house, I remember. I'm trying to think of her name. Stout, bright lady. What was her name. She lived in Carthage, Mississippi. And there were only certain places you could stay. Certain people who were brave enough to let you live in their houses and all that kind of stuff.

Williams: Do you remember Obie Clark?

Johnny Barbour: Yes.

Williams: Tell me a little bit about Obie Clark.

Johnny Barbour: At that time, Obie was teaching school, but became president of the NAACP and was actively involved with us, along with Mr. Crawford. (Inaudible) call Crawford's name to you.

Williams: What was Crawford's first name?

Johnny Barbour: I can't think of Crawford's first name. But he worked at the hotel. I remember that he worked at a hotel there. And, what was that other fellow's name that came, went into the Service and came here? But all of us worked together. What was his name? He was a retired serviceman. But, yes, I remember Obie. He was active and worked good. He is running a funeral home now, I understand, now. I saw his son not too long ago.

Williams: OK. I have got to get over and see him. So, what is the thing that stands out about Obie Clark and the movement?

Johnny Barbour: Stands just really out about him? He was active. I mean, he was a part of the team. He became president later on. Darden was president when I was there, I think. After I left, I think Obie became president and the activities after that kind of lost me because I was going on to another part of the state, getting involved in some other things. I don't know what happened after he became president.

Williams: OK. What about the previous president, Darden? What was your impression of him when you first got there? He was your boss. Am I correct?

Johnny Barbour: No, he was not my boss. (Laughter)

Williams: He was the chapter president in Meridian and then you were, during the Meridian--. What was your relationship with the man? He was a minister in Meridian.

Johnny Barbour: We were all, you know--. It was just a group of us who worked together for one common cause and I guess I was the youngest, so I ended up managing the office and coordinating things at that particular time. Darden was a nice guy. He was state president of the NAACP. I think he served well during his time. James Bishop, all that crowd. You know they were all older than me, but we all worked on it.

Williams: Can you tell me a little bit more about Reverend Inge? Just a little bit more.

Johnny Barbour: Now, he wasn't a marcher or anything like that, you know. But he was a good supporter. We could meet at his church occasionally and he supported the movement. Now there are some things that had taken place after I left that I can't really document what they did after I left there. There were a lot of people who became active who were not active. And I mean deeply involved, after I left.

Clara Barbour: We left there in November, sixty-six? Or October sixty-six, or somewhere like that. We moved.

Johnny Barbour: I was only there three years.

Williams: Yes. And that was from sixty-three to sixty-six.

Clara Barbour: It wasn't that three years. We didn't go there till sixty-four. That's when the young men were missing.

Johnny Barbour: A little more than two years.

Clara Barbour: Just did a lot. It seems like a long time.

Williams: Did you know William Miller?

Johnny Barbour: I don't remember William Miller.

Williams: What about Harold McGlothin?

Johnny Barbour: In Meridian?

Williams: Yes.

Johnny Barbour: I don't remember him. They must have come on after me.

Williams: OK. What about Dr. Polk?

Johnny Barbour: Yes. I remember Dr. Polk.

Williams: Can you tell me a little bit about him?

Johnny Barbour: He supported us, financially. You know when we needed money to help run the office. Things like that. And attended some meetings, you know. Not a marcher, as I remember. I don't know what happened later on, but he was a supporter and would meet with us and discuss our strategy and all those kinds of things. See his office was right--. Like my office is right upstairs, and this office is right down here. Basically the same building. I think there was a restaurant just between the Fielder Building and the other building.

Williams: Yes. Mrs. Barbour, you were telling me earlier that you were kind of like a support person and you were doing some things.

Clara Barbour: You mean in Meridian?

Williams: Yes, ma'am. In Meridian.

Clara Barbour: I worked in the office and just, you know, doing whatever needed to be done in there. Who else? This guy from Canada. What was his name?

Johnny Barbour: I can't remember his name.

Clara Barbour: He and I kind of manned it. I think I went out on the street canvassing a couple of times, but mainly I stayed in the office and coordinated--

Johnny Barbour: We didn't have a lot of money in those days to run the office so we depended on volunteers, you know. And she volunteered to help us.

Williams: So what are some the kinds of things that you did, administrative things that were--

Johnny Barbour: Help keep the filing and statistics on folks we had registered.

Clara Barbour: Yes, files.

Johnny Barbour: Addresses, telephone, all that kind of stuff, so we could follow up.

Clara Barbour: Answered phones and helped to get out material, like we had flyers sometimes, and I would help get those out. But basically, while I was there, I was sort of, I guess you might say, in the background and I did sing at some of the rallies when Dr. King came, a couple of few times. Then they had a banquet with Jackie Robinson and I really supported my husband and observed, you know. A lot was going on. And I was kind of scared. A lot of times I was scared, but we just kind of stayed together and I was mostly like a background support. I wasn't ever out front on anything.

Williams: How many kids did you have?

Johnny Barbour: We have one son.

Clara Barbour: We just have one son.

Williams: Can you tell me a little about who set that banquet up with Jackie Robinson and what was the purpose of that?

Johnny Barbour: We were having an NAACP banquet.

Williams: What year was that?

Johnny Barbour: Must have been sixty-four, I guess. Jackie Robinson was our speaker for the banquet.

Williams: And that's his wife there?

Johnny Barbour: That's his wife.

Williams: And who else is on this picture, here?

Johnny Barbour: Charles Young and his son, Chuck, Jackie Robinson, Mrs. Robinson, Clara my wife, myself, C.R. Darden's wife, and R.S. Porter, and Charles Evers.

Williams: And how successful was that affair.

Clara Barbour: That was good.

Williams: Where did you hold it?

Johnny Barbour: We held it at the HBA. Was that the HBA? It was on Fifth Street. I don't remember what the name was, but it was black-operated. H-something. Charles would know. Charles Young.

Williams: Was it like a restaurant or club?

Johnny Barbour: No, it was a hall. A big, you know. Yes.

Williams: Did you have any white folks come there?

Clara Barbour: There were a few there.

Johnny Barbour: Yes, a few. Two or three of them.

Clara Barbour: There were a few white people there. I can remember that. Not a lot, but there were a few.

Williams: How old was your son at the time that you were there?

Clara Barbour: He was a baby.

Johnny Barbour: About two or three years old.

Clara Barbour: No, not two or three years old. Not when we went there. He was about eight months old when we went there. When we left, he was about two.

Williams: When did you first register to vote?

Johnny Barbour: Oh, when I became twenty-one. At that time you had to be twenty-one years old.

Williams: How about you, Mrs. Barbour?

Clara Barbour: We were in Shreveport. Not Shreveport, oh gosh. Meridian. I registered.

Williams: Did you have any problems?

Clara Barbour: No, just those questions you had to answer. We had this form, that was so long.

Johnny Barbour: And you interpreted part of the constitution.

Clara Barbour: Yes, it asked you all kinds of stuff. And, like I say, we had sessions to inform the people and get them familiar with the forms, those who tried to get to vote. Because it wasn't like, real easy, for black people to vote. It wasn't like you could just go down there and sign up.

Johnny Barbour: Like it is now. You just tell them where you live.

Clara Barbour: No, you couldn't do that.

Johnny Barbour: It wasn't that easy. Sometimes you were intimidated, too.

Clara Barbour: Yes.

Williams: Can you remember some of the most dramatic types of intimidations to stop the black folks from being organized and voting?

Johnny Barbour: Well, when I went to Yazoo City, I can remember that the police used to sit across in front of my house and just watch the house. You could wake up almost any time of night and see the policeman sitting out there. Yazoo City I guess was a pretty rough place. They had a guy named Russell[?] who was the chief of police and he (inaudible).

Clara Barbour: That was a rough place.

Johnny Barbour: Tried to discourage you about the civil rights movement, and voting, and all that. I pastored Bethel Church, which is the oldest black church there and when Rudy Shields and all of them were coming to Yazoo City to try to get started, they came to my house and I carried him around to Dr. Harrison's[?] office. Dr. Robert Harrison who was a dentist and was on the--. He was the first black, I think, on the Board of Higher Education in Mississippi. I never shall forget, they penned us in around there and he finally got them to let us out. All the sheriff and everybody just covered the street and he finally got them to let us out of there and let them out, but I remember Tom Brown and I who used to pastor Pearl Street[?], we were walking back because everybody had left us by ourselves. (Laughter) And these policemen drove up to us and said, "Where are you boys coming from?" So, I told him where we were coming from. And he said, "We thought you were going to lie and we were going to get out and beat your heads in." You know, that kind of thing. And they were just riding along beside you until we finally got to my parsonage and everything. And got in the house. And then when I went up to DeSoto County, up to Hernando, they put me in jail up there. I remember Jackie had to come get me out, but they would just follow you. You know, and you'd never know what was going to happen. And I was kind of crazy, I guess in those days. When I went to Hattiesburg, they used to have these night marches, and they would have these mass meetings. That was after they killed Vernon Dahmer, and then we would march at night. Down to City Hall there, and sing and have rallies on the City Hall steps.

Clara Barbour: I wasn't working then.

Johnny Barbour: She was at home. And, when you look back over those things, you think about how dangerous it was, number one. Of course, I can remember the train used to cut us off. I don't know whether it was designed, or it just happened to be. This was at the time we were marching, but those kinds of things were [going on.] You always had these. You could be having a march and somebody would just pass by in a car: zoom! You know. Could run over somebody. That kind of thing. You always had a certain amount of fear.

Williams: Since you were based in Meridian and you had a history of civil rights activism, did the folks in Meridian feel that you were bringing some heat on them? (Laughter)

Johnny Barbour: Like I said--.

Williams: I mean what was their reaction knowing your activist history and all of a sudden you are in their midst, and you--.

(End of tape one, side two. The interview continues on tape two, side one.)

Johnny Barbour: --somebody willing to come in and be a part and move on. That's what made Charles and all that group accept me. I wasn't really a radical, but just solid and willing to do and try to move (inaudible). Among those blacks in that group, I was pretty well accepted.

Williams: Yes. Now, the fellow that just got convicted for killing Dahmer, Medgar's killer has been convicted, and just recently Mrs. Rita Schwerner--

Johnny Barbour: --right, re-opened that case.

Williams: What do you think about that?

Johnny Barbour: I predict that they will convict somebody. I hold that the Bible is true. "Whatsoever you sow, that also shall you reap." I believe that. It may be ever so long, but there is a day of reckoning. And I don't think that day is always on the other side. We live to see you have to suffer the consequences for the deeds you do here on Earth. Byron De La Beckwith from Greenwood, my hometown. Probably never thought that he would have to spend the rest of his days in jail, for killing a black man, anyway, because Ross Barnett made him a hero. So, he never thought that this day would come. Old Bowers and them, they never thought they would end up in jail. They knew nothing would happen to them then. And they figured the folks would forget it and go on. They lived by that rule that you can't try them but one time for the same crime, but they never thought that new evidence would come up and they would be put in jail. And I thank God for a day like this.

Clara Barbour: But they didn't even have a murder trial for those, Schwerner and Goodman and Chaney. They didn't have a murder trial.

Johnny Barbour: That's right. Just a civil rights violation.

Clara Barbour: That's all.

Johnny Barbour: I think the time is far overdue. They need to really solve the problem and do something about it. Put it behind us. The more we solve our problems, the better we are able to heal as we go along.

Williams: Let me ask you this. Where do you think African-Americans in Mississippi are now?

Johnny Barbour: We've come a long way. When I was in Jackson as a student, Allen Thompson was the mayor of Jackson. Perhaps one of the worst white men that ever lived. He bought the tank, you know, and had them put dogs on us. Put us in jail in the wintertime and turn on the air conditioners.

Clara Barbour: And those great, big old water hoses.

Johnny Barbour: Water hoses on us and everything when we were marching. I was here, involved in the marching when Allen Thompson had these kinds of things. Ross Barnett who has died since I've been here this time, was one of the greatest segregationists who ever lived. Went up and stood in the door when James Meredith was going up to Ole Miss. And we searched records, my wife and I, for the NAACP, trying to get James Meredith in school. Working with (inaudible).

Clara Barbour: Yes, we went to court.

Johnny Barbour: To the courts, and everything. And the governor today, now, when you have an aggressive black man in the city of Jackson, who appears to be acceptable to both races, it's a great day. When you go down to the state capitol and see the number of blacks who are involved in activities and who are carrying on and--.

Clara Barbour: Post office.

Johnny Barbour: Post office that is named for Medgar Evers. Federal building downtown named for Dr. McCoy. These are folks who made our bail, you know, when we were put in jail and everything, and we perhaps have more--the only federal building, probably, that is named for blacks, in this nation. It's rewarding and yet it's sad when I see so many young people who are just wasting their lives away and don't really know what it's all about. Don't know anything about the struggle.

Clara Barbour: They don't care anything about the struggle.

Johnny Barbour: This black-on-black crime. Unfortunate, you know, when you see blacks killing one another the way they do when in days when you are talking about, we had to worry about white folks killing us. That's the sad news quite often. But I still have hope for even this generation. That there are periods in life that you go through, but I still see hope for a brighter day. We're moving into a new millennium. I think we are going to have a great day for black people in Mississippi and in this country.

Clara Barbour: If we don't fight against each other.

Williams: I want to thank you for providing this information. I have learned quite a bit and I want to thank you. And Tougaloo and USM thank you for taking time out of your busy schedule to talk with me.

(End of interview.)


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The University of Southern Mississippi | Last updated
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