was transcribed as part of the Civil Rights Documentation
Funding for this
project was provided in part by the Mississippi
the National Endowment for the Humanities, and
Department of Archives and History.
Dr. Hobert Kornegay was born
August 28, 1923 in Meridian, Mississippi. He attended Harris
High School in Meridian from 1937 until he was graduated in
1941. His high school teacher, John Pettis, mentored him and
assisted him with obtaining a scholarship to Morehouse College.
Dr. Kornegay earned a bachelor's degree in biology and chemistry
from Morehouse College from which he was graduated in 1945.
Upon graduation from Morehouse, he entered Meharry Medical
Dental School from which he earned his D.D.S. in 1948. In
1952, he attended Brooke Army Medical Center in Fort Sam Houston,
Texas. Then, he journeyed to Munich, Germany, where he served
as captain in the U.S. Army Dental Corps until 1955. He attended
four consecutive weekly continuing education courses in preventive
dentistry at the Walter Reed U.S. Army Institute of Dental
His memberships include the
NAACP, the Eleemosynary Board, Trustee of New Hope Baptist
Church, the Meridian Area Dental Society, the Mississippi
Dental Association, the American and National Dental Associations,
the Academy of Dentistry, the Red Cross Board, the Salvation
Army Board, Boy Scouts Choctaw Area Council, Four-H Club Advisory
Board, Toastmasters International Central Optimist Club, Masons,
Shriners, Elks, Omega Psi Phi Fraternity, Riley Hospital Staff,
Selective Service System local board, District Appeal Board
Chair Southern Judicial District, Basileus Theta Iota Iota
Chapter of Omega Psi Phi Fraternity, Who's Who in South and
Southwest, Who's Who in Black America, Who's Who in Politics,
Advisory Board of the Mississippi Council on Aging, Human
and Community Development Steering Committee National League
of Cities and Gideons International - Western. He was the
first black elected to City Council in 1977. He became the
first black Supervisor in Lauderdale County in 1985.
His honors include Outstanding
Alumnus of Meharry Medical College in 1988, awards from the
Mississippi Dental Association Society, Head Start, Coordinating
Council, Citizenship Awards from Mount Olive, St. Paul, Toastmasters,
Ministerial Alliance, Daughters of Isis, Shriners, Masons,
and the NAACP.
He has been engaged in private
dental practice from 1948 to the present. He is the author
of a book entitled Survival. He is married to Mrs.
Ernestine Kornegay; they have three daughters, one son, and
seven grandchildren. His hobbies include photography, electronics,
cryptography, coin collecting, reading, and the French, German,
Russian, Japanese, and Spanish languages.
Morehouse College and Meharry
Medical School 2
NAACP leaders at Morehouse College
Recollections of racism experienced
at early age 3
Inhumane treatment of Negro
Harris High School 6
Bob Moses 7
New Hope Baptist Church 7
Teachers joining NAACP under
Examples of white repression
of blacks 9
Civil rights meetings with James
Farmer and CORE at First Union Church 10
Martin Luther King 11
Narrow escape from lynching
of Columbus dentist Dr. Stringer 11
Drive-by shootings into Kornegays'
Black informants 13
Bennie Mays 15
Influence in the District of
Unique racial composition of
Teaching blacks to pass the
civil service exams 18
Chaney, Schwerner, and Goodman
Medgar Evers 21
Charles Evers 22
Polly Heidelberg 23
Integration of Meridian High
Annual Mississippi Picnic 26
This is an interview for
the Civil Rights Documentation project. The interview is with
Dr. Hobert Kornegay and is taking place on January 6, 1999,
in Meridian. The interviewer is Don Williams.
Kornegay, I have heard a lot about you and I am just so happy
to finally have met you. And it's raining outside, but the
sunshine is in your office here.
Keep it warm and comfortable. Cozy and comfortable.
Kornegay, when were you born?
(A segment discussing scheduling
of the interview is not included in this typed transcript.)
were you born?
Meridian. Have you ever lived anyplace else, outside of Meridian?
in Germany two and a half years.
fifty-two to fifty-four.
what were you doing in Germany?
was captain of the Dental Corps. Munich, Germany. Sprechen
ein bisschen. Matter of fact, I was up in Wurzburg, in
the Medical Corps, and I was stationed at Frankfurt General
Hospital at one time, in Frankfurt.
you were drafted, Dr. Kornegay?
They were calling all the doctors, at that time. We were allowed
to stay in school during the war. And we had an opportunity
to finish school and so they gave you rank and then called
you in to active duty.
you go down to Fort Sam Houston for your training?
Yes. Fort Sam and after that we went up to Camp Kilman and
from Camp Kilman we went to these other places.
high school did you go to?
went to Harris.
When was that? Do you remember?
in thirty-seven, I think.
graduated in thirty-seven?
I graduated in forty-one. I went there. See, we were the first
class to go the first four years at Harris, as a new school.
Just been built.
after you graduated from Harris, what school did you attend
what year was that?
did you get your undergraduate degree in?
and chemistry. French, minor.
graduated, you obtained your undergraduate degree when? What
you entered Meharry Medical Dental School?
I was already there. They gave me the degree after I finished.
I got both degrees at the same time.
So, you got your bachelor's degree and your dental degree
in 1945. OK.
I got my dental in forty-eight.
you involved in any organizations while in college?
I was involved with Omega Psi Phi Fraternity. And of course,
we had NAACP, at that time there, because you had the great
NAACP leaders, Calhoun, a big real estate man there. Dobbs,
who was the head of the Masons in Georgia, and Ira D. Reed
the great sociologist, and William E.B. DuBois, one of the
founders of the NAACP. So when I came here, one of the guys
got smart with me one time, "You don't even know anything
about the NAACP." You know how people blow off. I didn't say
anything, just thinking, "You fool. I've been in there since
I was about seventeen." I left here when I was seventeen years
old, really. But I was there with all of those persons. In
fact, well, they talk like Martin Luther King, you know, he
did so much, everybody found out about it, but I had a classmate
there named Douglas from Chattanooga, Tennessee, and he vowed
that he wasn't going to ride that streetcar sitting up there,
sitting in the back. And, he made me sit all the way with
him, all the way across Peachtree Street. And the motorman
got his little old thing that he controlled the thing with,
like he was going to come back there. And Carter told him,
"I wish you would. I wish you would." And nobody said anything.
was Carter Douglas?
Carter. Do you know him?
I've heard of him.
Carter. Yes, he was great. I don't know whether he was a pharmacist
or he had a drugstore somewhere in Florida, but he, man, shoot,
he would go in places and he would make them do right. Make
them do right.
can you tell me just a little bit about--. Well, 1923. When
is it that you first realized that black folks were--when
did you become aware of the need for civil rights or that
black folks were different than white folks?
when I was a youngster. They had a hospital up here on Twelfth
Street and Twenty-eighth Avenue. And behind it, they had the
nuns. It was a Catholic hospital. They had the nuns who stayed
in a house over on Thirteenth Street. And I was telling my
wife recently about they knew--. She wondered why some of
these people you see on TV, "Why they leave the shade up?
Why they have it where people can look in?" And every week
they would arrest some black boys peeping in there at them
undressing. Every week. They had the same ones, they'd go
pick up. If they weren't in jail, they would go pick them
up and take them to jail.
And then here, they had a road
gang in chains, sweeping the streets in Meridian. They'd have
them five or six abreast, going down sweeping the streets
in chains and uniforms that they wore. Prison uniform type.
And they would beat them. You could go down there and hear
them hollering sometimes. The old jail was down there. They
called it the Waldoff. Walled Off, you know. Waldoff. They
had it down on Fifth Street, right by the railroad track,
and when those trains coming through there whistling and blowing,
they'd have them Negroes in there hollering, because some
of the whites got a kick out of beating them in there, you
know. So that let me know I didn't ever want to get involved
or have any incarceration, you know, or anything. And, they
used to beat Negroes. I vowed if anyone ever hit me, that
was the end for him and me, you know. I said, "I'm going to
stay out of trouble, myself, but if one ever deliberately
hits me, that was going to be the end of him." And I say that
now, you know. "If you hit me, brother, that's you and me,
But I thought that was the most horrible and inhuman treatment
that you could have seen, you know. Then, they had a county
road camp here. They had blacks out there on the county roads.
Would have them out there on Sunday, digging ditches and everything.
A friend of mine told me, said, "You know," a boy that associated
with him had on this pretty white Easter suit, going to church.
Said an old boss out there on the county road said, "Come
here, boy. Where you going?"
Said, "I'm going to church."
"Pull your coat off and get
in this ditch and help these other niggers dig this ditch."
You know. They had powerful
influence and figured they could do anything they wanted to
do, you know. Like say if blacks had had guns in their houses,
they all hunted, but I don't think they had any guns worth
anything. They never would go into a house and snatch somebody
out and take him out and lynch him and that type thing. And
I wonder if some of these people think about that now, you
know. Down at Clarke County, they lynched so many blacks.
Have you ever seen that book, the black book, where they show
the Negroes up on a rope hanging from a tree?
seen that? Yes. And I used to wonder, "Why is it they can
get away with that?" You know, and nobody did anything about
it or anything, you know. Same time, I was wondering about
why these white men go in there and have fornication with
black women? If you hate them so much, why you want to, you
know, get involved with them? So you had enough to let you
know that they thought you were inferior, you know. And they
did it, they tried to prove it to you, you know. Case in point,
example, when they burned those churches up in Philadelphia
and beat all those folks up in there, trying to have prayer
meeting, they thought people were having a civil rights meeting.
They were having prayer meeting, up in Philadelphia.
years was that? Do you remember?
was fifty-what? Oh, when did they have that in Philadelphia?
I don't remember the dates now. But, some of those black guys
tried to wear a big old hat like the sheriffs up there. He
was going to emulate. I guess he said, "I'm going to be bad,
myself." Here's a man who beat your daddy. I think one of
the boys' daddy did get beaten in the church one night up
there. He, then, coming down here, wearing that big old hat,
trying to look like Sheriff Rainey or Price or somebody. They,
incidentally, arrested Price recently, here, for something
he was doing. Some kind of license, truck license. Did you
read about that?
I did see something in the paper about that. Did you have
any brothers and sisters?
brothers and no sisters. Just only my spoiled self. There
was only one of me. (Laughter)
did your parents do?
father worked at United Ice Company. They used to haul ice,
you know, on big drays, and ice up, and sell ice all over
town. And they would ice up those banana cars that came up
here from Mobile and Gulfport. They would ice them up. And
then, they finally got T-Model trucks, you know, that they
could haul that ice in. But he was in charge of the stables
down there with all the horses. They had some beautiful big
bay horses that would pull those big drays, you know. You
had about 15,000 pounds of ice on one of those long, flatbeds,
you see. My mother was just a housewife. She had done a little
work with the mattress factory. My grandmother, you know,
used to sew those mattresses by hand. What is it? Mattress
Factory? Crudup Brothers Mattress Company in Meridian. So,
we got along pretty good.
you tell me a little bit about your days at Harris High School?
And how the students there felt about, race relations?
you know, they would demonstrate and do things, you know.
The principal didn't like it, you know, when they would do
things. They figured that Mr. Darden--. Did you ever know
him? Darden was head of the NAACP here, you know. They'd shoot
in his house at will, you know. Anytime they felt like it,
they would shoot his window out, right there on Twenty-sixth,
about four blocks up. And Darden would bring signs, and they
would put students out of the class and put them out of the
school if they used those signs, you know. Yes. It was rough.
It was rough.
let me just kind of regress just a little bit. And come up
into the fifties and sixties, but I want to know, when you
were attending Harris High School, how did you get to be on
the track to go to medical school and to college?
I had a professor who taught biology and physics and chemistry
that married one of the Reese[?] girls up there not far from
me, named John B. Pettis. I don't know whether you ever met
John, but before he died, he was in charge of quality control
at Keesler Air Force Base. He was a mathematician. And Pettis
had graduated from Morehouse. And he was, what do you call
it? He influenced me, and he even allowed me to be the laboratory
instructor in chemistry, when we were in school there. You
may say he was my mentor, you see. He helped me get a scholarship
and all that, you know.
Well, the teachers at that time, they were having you to do
book reports, and every Monday, you had to have some kind
of current event to present. And we had to keep scrap books
on current events. I think the late Professor Reed[?] started
that down there. And we would get a lot of current events
out of The Pittsburgh Courier and The Chicago
Defender. You'd get mad every time you'd read one because
there was always something about a lynching. Mob kills a black,
or something like that, you know. And, it got so you hated
to look at it. Every time you saw one, you got mad. Anytime
you read anything about it, you see. That was before the days
of TV. That was our only outlet, you know, for news actually,
because you know this local paper, for a long time they wouldn't
call no black woman Mrs. or anything, you know. Negro
news they had in the paper. Negro news, you know. Then they
put colored news.
newspaper was that?
Meridian Star. I don't know whether Jackson did it like
that. I know they started calling them Miss and Mrs.
before they did here in Meridian. Slander. You know, you could
see that clear, you know, that, "Hey, you are nobody."
Well, let me kind of go fast forward again. We might jump
back again, but what organizations do you think were important
during the fifties, sixties, and seventies in terms of the
civil rights movement?
think that the NAACP. Of course, you had SNCC. Moses. I met
him. He was over at Tougaloo, you know. He'd go up in the
Delta, and pretend he was a cotton-picker, and everything.
They never paid any attention. They didn't keep no head count.
One nigger looked like another one, as far as they were concerned.
And, then you had the Urban League, a great influence. And
then later on, you had the Student Nonviolent Movement, you
know. That was SNCC, I think.
Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee.
And, what else was there? You had another group that was a
Yes, that's right, because the students came down here from
CORE. There's a little girl that goes around now, she acts
like, you know, she left here with those students and went
back and she got too much education because it had affected
her, you know. Right now, she walks around the streets, you
know. But she went back. They called themselves going to help
her, you know. They helped her a little too much, because
she couldn't take all that at one time.
you remember her name?
you talk to her, you'll have something. She'll talk. Of course,
she's going to tell you about helping her get her billions
from Merrill Lynch, and all that kind of thing. Betty Manual,
that's her name. Right now, she wants me to call the attorney
general and somebody help her get her billions, you know,
from the Internal Revenue. Yes. You know.
active was she?
she went around with them, you know. With the boys and girls
when they were here from the college, during that hot summer,
you know. That you had all those persons here.
what year was that?
believe it was the same year that those civil rights workers
got killed. Or either the year before. It was some time in
church did you belong to during that time?
Hope Baptist Church.
who was the pastor there?
you had that first year, Reverend Beard, who went to this
big church in Birmingham after that. Then you had a Reverend
Brown who left and went to Indiana. And then you had a Reverend,
one you got in Jackson now, what's his name, from Hattiesburg,
Reverend--. What is his name? Tall, light complexion. Minister.
was Reverend Inge?
Inge was here. He came here later. Yes. Then you had this
Reverend Douglas, very articulate minister that was here.
Then we had another Brown to come here from Indiana. I can
almost call the name of that preacher that was here. It wasn't
Compton. What was it? Clayton?
He is in Jackson now.
find out. But Reverend Cameron, yes. He has a large active
church in Jackson. What groups did you actually belong to,
that you had membership in during the civil rights movement?
I was a member of the Elks and Masons and NAACP, National
Dental Association, American Dental Association, and the local
societies here. I can tell you something that's real interesting.
Most people don't pay much attention to it: the fact that,
at that time, when I came here, you couldn't join the white
dental society. As a result, you couldn't join the American
Dental Society. And it was ironically, I don't guess they
can take it back from me. They gave me credit this year for
being in the organization fifty years. Fifty years.
Did you ever know Dr. Britton?
He is a Tougaloo graduate and I think his daughter teaches
over there now.
have heard the name Britton.
Britton looks like a white man, you know. And we met with
the whites several times. We met them over to the Elks one
Sunday and we had representatives from the organization and
Britton cried like a baby, you know, saying, "Oh, you mistreat
all us black folks."
And they couldn't help but
cry with him. Saying, "You're whiter than we are." (Laughter)
Some of those poor white, black folks. But it wasn't too long
after that, though, that they decided to let us join, and
so, I told you that, to tell you about this year, I got a
fifty-year pin from the American Dental Association saying
that I had been a member of the Mississippi Dental Association
fifty years. Can you believe it?
you get it back on?
we are taping.
fifty years. And I was shocked. I was glad to get it. I didn't
refuse it, you know. But Dr. (inaudible) said, "Don't abuse
it. Don't refuse it. It's mine how I use it."
me ask you this. You belong to the Elks and Masons. What environment
did they have in the civil rights movement?
just had active programs. They never did, you know, just go
out there on the front line with anything that I can remember.
See, the whites ordinarily would try to get to people in those
hierarchies of those organizations and try to smooth them
off. You know, "We're going to treat y'all right. Everything's
going to be OK." And of course, the teachers couldn't do anything.
Like I say, Mr. Darden tried to get the teachers--. You know
a teacher couldn't belong to the NAACP during that time? If
they did, they had to use some other name. They'd give the
money, but they'd use some other name. Can you imagine that?
In this day and time? That day and time,
you couldn't do it. You'd lose your job.
you tell me about some of the other kinds of repression against
black folks? Like the Reverend Inge and Reverend Johnson,
and folks, and yourself.
you know, you'd go to the bank, you couldn't get but so much
money, you know, and everything. They didn't want you to build
no big houses or nothing like that. I remember Reverend Coats[?]
bought a Cadillac one time. They didn't, the man didn't even
want to sell that to him. I think he went out of town and
bought him a Cadillac. We had a Reverend King, he is pastor
now, if he hasn't retired, in Detroit, that they didn't want
to sell him that big Lincoln. He went somewhere and bought
it. Detroit, or somewhere, and bought it. But, I remember
very good, one time when I came back from Germany. I thought
about getting me an office kind of like this, it was over
near the hospital. I saw the real estate guy this morning.
I said, "You have that place for sale. I'd like to see about
He said, "It ain't time. You'd
be too close to the hospital. It ain't time for nothing like
that, now." Told me that. "Ain't time for that."
And these black guys would
go around with these girls, black girls that were [of] real
light complexion. Police would always--even though they knew
that this girl was Dr. Blackwell's daughter or somebody else's,
you know, black child. Used to have some pretty girls over
there on the south side. And the police would have a habit
of stopping them, "Are those white girls y'all got?" You know.
And, I remember Dickey Bill. Do you know him, up in Columbus?
Dickey's a principal or something up in Columbus, but he made
me out sometimes they would go out to these little clubs and
things at night, and they would keep asking him, "Are those
white girls you got, Dickey?" You know. And one friend of
mine still married to this girl over here. If you saw her
right now, you'd swear she's white. Simmons. Went out to California
and moved back here. But they have stopped him a number of
times. I don't know if they ever roughed him up or anything,
you know. Say, "What are you doing with this white girl?"
He had to explain a many-a time that she was non-white. That
she was a colored girl, you know. They knew they were getting
them colored babies, you know, that looked white, but they
didn't, you know--. Dr. Wheaton married this girl, Dixie.
Dixie Perryman[?]. Perryman went to school; she finished Tougaloo,
and her brother, too. Perryman, from up here in Kemper County,
and they didn't like it because he had married her. "Is that
a white girl?" They asked me one day, "Is that a white girl
I said, "She looks white, doesn't
she?" You know. I had the same thing happen in Germany. This
great, big Negro sergeant. Black as that thing right there,
you know. He was a sergeant with the MPs. At that time they
wore those white boots and white caps, and he was as sharp
as a tack. Sharp as he wanted to be. And we went to see the
Globetrotters there in Munich. And this little old captain
who was with me, he had married some young girl who had worked
for his father who was a dentist in Arkansas. She [was] just
as dumb and backwards as she wanted to be. And we were sitting
up there and here this guy came in with the most beautiful
blond girl you ever want to see. And the game was about to
start. And this girl was about to poke me with her elbow,
"Hey, Kornegay, is that a white girl that is with him?"
I said, "No."
She said, "Well, she looks--"
I said, "That's a German girl."
She didn't get the difference. (Laughter) I said, "No, that
ain't no white girl. That's a German girl." (Laughter) Something
else. I tell you.
tell me, what was the attitude of black folks here in Meridian
at the start of the civil rights movement in this area. You
know, when you had the freedom riders?
Where you met at churches and different things. What's this
guy's name, Farmer? Came here with CORE. Yes.
And they met at churches and things and people were scared
the church was going to be burned down and all that.
church was that?
you get involved with that?
Because I knew all these people, you know. Just like Martin
Luther King, he came here, Charles himself, you know. Martin
Luther came up and gave me one of those hugs, you know. Friends'
hug. Like this, "Kornegay, what you doing?"
And Charles said, "I didn't
know you knew him."
I said, "Didn't know him? I
knew him when he was a little old boy came up there to pick
tobacco up in Connecticut, you know, in school." But they
were afraid, you know. Everybody was afraid the white folks
wouldn't like this and all like that. I don't know whether
you know about Dr. Stringer in Columbus, or not.
you tell me about that?
finished dentist school a year after I did. And he was practicing
in Columbus. You know, like a lot of us young eager beavers
coming up, we wanted to do everything, get voter registration
and everything like that, you know. Get people to register
and vote, and so forth. And, some of the old guys up there,
who had made a lot of money and everything, they stood back
and let Stringer--. That's the same thing that happened in
Montgomery with Martin Luther, you know. Those old preachers
had put him out front. Then they got jealous of him when he
got all that publicity. Stringer was taking people to vote
and everything. They'd threaten him and send him all kinds
of messages and so forth. And the banks wouldn't let him have
any money. They did that all over, you know. They wouldn't
let you have any money, you know. "You one of them funny-type
niggers. We're going to fix you. Won't let you get anything."
Dr. Stringer had been working
very successfully. One day he got a call in his office. And
they said, "Doctor, I'm white and I'm a good friend of yours,
and I don't have time to do too much talking." He said, "Whatever
you're doing, you stop and get out of that
office right now and go home. I'm going to call you at home
in a few minutes, but you do like I'm telling you now, and
I'll call you at home and tell you why I'm telling you this."
So he listened, and Stringer
went on home. Told the girl, he said, "I'm going to be gone
for a while."
And when he got home, the guy
called and said, "Now Stringer, there's a white girl supposed
to be coming to your office within the next few minutes. She's
going to tear her clothes off and start hollering, and some
guys, about ten of them, are waiting down in that little old
alley down by your office up there. They're going to come
in there and tear you to shreds."
[Dr. Stringer] called his office
and asked her, says, "Is there a white woman in there with
a black dress on?"
She said, "She sure is. She's
sitting up here now wondering when you are going to get back."
Probably had paid her for that, you know.
So he didn't go to his office for three or four days after
that. We tease him, you know, because he became a very successful
Baptist preacher. We told him, say, "You used to play the
trombone, and now you reading the Bible." But see, that's
what happened with Stringer. He's one of the nicest guys you
ever want to meet.
(End of tape one, side one.
The interview continues on tape one, side two.)
house had gotten shot into?
shot in there. It just happened my daughter, who slept in
that room, front room--. I think you can still see some of
those buckshots in that aluminum part of that Miami window
that I have over there. But she wasn't in the room, you know,
when the--. Of course, it broke the glass and everything,
but that's the only damage that was done to the window there.
But then the FBI here some years later, they telling me about
who did it, and why this and that and the other. This guy,
now, is deathly sick, the FBI man, you know. You know, he
knew all these different things were going on and who all
these people are, now. They discuss it now just like-- . Some
of the ex-officers discuss it just like it is a doggone bridge
party or something, you know. All that stuff going on.
But see, they had come by my
house a number of times, and slowed up and everything, and
I always kept a big old rifle out near my garage. If they
ever tried to shoot or had done anything, I was going to unload
it right at the car, you know. But they were openly bold during
that time, you know. And they would try anything or say anything.
Well, one thing they had said, that I had let some whites
stay at my house. Some whites came down here to--. The editor
of Scientific American magazine and one of the lawyers
with his white staff came here and I let them meet here. Cal
Simpson was here, one of the reporters and we met at my house
one night discussing a lot of this stuff.
They made a mistake another
time and shot in my neighbor's house, you know, Mr. Otis[?].
They didn't know which house, but then they shot in his after
he let some white folks stay there, civil rights agitators
from up North, you know. And what got to me, what ticked me
off was a lot of these preachers were jealous because they
thought they should have gotten the publicity. I didn't want
any publicity. I told them, "Man, you could have gotten all
of that. I don't want no publicity. I don't want nobody shooting
in my house." You know. But they wanted publicity. They were
all of them going and trying to be like Martin Luther King.
They wanted anything for recognition. I said, "You can get
all you want. I don't want that type of recognition." It was
a rough time.
me ask you this. What was your role? You were a leading professional
in the community, eventually you became the first [black]
City Councilperson, the first [black] Supervisor in Lauderdale
County, and I see that you are on the hospital board here,
I was on it. They got jealous of my being on the Eleemosynary
Board. They didn't even know what that meant, you know. That
was the charity hospital board, you know. And the hospital
commission. And they got after Governor Winter, saying, "He's
not even a Democrat." See, when I ran, both times, I ran as
an independent. "He's not even a Democrat."
But Governor Winter said he
saw something in me, you know, that I could produce, and he
put me on all those things and also recommended that I go,
when I was with the city, to get the city this All American
City Award out in Texas. But you have, a lot of folks, you
know--. Not straying from what we are talking about, but my
wife, you see her picture up there? The Liberty Shop, fancy
lady's store, asked her to model that outfit.
is your wife here?
In the red.
looks like a movie star.
She would love to hear that. She modeled that and it came--.
That's my daughter in Atlanta. She modeled that outfit and
it came out in the paper. And this big woman, two-ton woman,
went down and blessed him out. Said, "I buy a lot of clothes
here. Y'all never asked me to pose for a picture for the paper."
But just shows their jealousy and envy. That's the thing,
you know. Then another thing, you had a lot of Negroes going
and telling white folks different things. Had an old boy writing
insurance around here. "Well, they had a meeting last night.
They discussed this and discussed that." You know and everything.
Like another one went down to the circuit clerk's and said,
"We had a meeting last night. We discussed you. If don't let
us come in here and register to vote, we're going to get you
in court." And all like that. I tell you, there's a friendly
guy here, you know, friendly, just running his mouth too much.
I tell him, I say, "You the type Negro used to get those Negroes
killed on their jobs. Be around the white man talking about,
'We discussed old John over there. He had a dream about your
wife last night. Dreamed he was screwing your wife.'" You
know, and all that. See, ignorance. You had a lot of that,
you know. Where Negroes got a lot of Negroes killed or something
happened to them, lost their jobs or something. Because those
white people didn't want to hear nothing,
you know. But some of them figured they could scratch in their
head, scratching where they don't itch, and itching where
they don't scratch and all that. They [would] go down saying
everything, you know, that they thought the boss wanted to
year did you first get elected to City Council?
then Supervisor was?
see. What year was I Supervisor? Eighty-five, I think.
And then were you on any other boards?
I was on the, city, I was on the planning board and community
development and a number of boards here. In fact, we were
getting this urban renewal money through some of these things,
and with the Salvation Army and I can give you a list of all
would appreciate that.
I will give you a list of all those different things, you
know, that I served on.
no doubt that you were one of the leaders, and that there
was a little jealousy--
me, how did you, knowing that you got all this kind of conflict
going on: the demonstrations, the people getting shot at,
how did you deal with that? Let's say the sheriff's department
or more moderate whites or people who were trying to keep
the lid on it.
[would] just ignore it and go on about my business and do
what I had to do, you know. I served with the Chamber of Commerce,
too, and all that in there. I'd just tell them what I thought,
you know. Like Connie Moore. Did you ever know Connie Moore?
Connie was a guy who served a long time in the Army as a sergeant
and he was sort of reluctant to stir up the hornet's nest,
you know. He didn't want to get too involved. So he asked
me one day, "You told them. What did you--? You must not owe
these white folks." That's what he told me one day, "You must
not owe them anything."
I said, "I don't owe them anything."
He said, "I see the way you
talk because if you owed them anything, man, they'd cut you
down, if you talked like that."
I said, "Well, no, I don't
owe them anything. They can do whatever they
want to do as far as I'm concerned. But I'm not going to take
second fiddle." I learned that years ago, even before I went
to Morehouse. Then to hear Bennie Mays[?] stand up there,
and said, "The picture has never been made and the movie theater
does not exist that would require you to go down an alley
and up a flight of fifty steps just to see a movie." He said,
"You are degrading yourself and you shouldn't do it."
When I was writing my book,
one of the secretaries up here was typing. She said, "You
ought not to put that in there."
I said, "Why not?" You know.
Say, "You are too important to degrade yourself by going down
there. The movie hasn't been made nor will it ever be made
that will require you to degrade yourself to that point where
you would go and look at a movie." Say, "It's not worth it."
And that's what he instilled, you know, and different things.
People like Maynard Jackson, Martin Luther King, and all those
folks. I told about that when they had me speaking up there
at Morehouse one day. And I told them about Mays. They wanted
me to say a lot of things about Mays. I said, "During the
war, a boy came in drunk one night and kicked the door in
at Robert Hall. And that next morning at the--."
You know we had chapel nearly
every day up there at Morehouse, and Dr. Mays used to say,
"Buck Billy's going to ride today." Well, he rode that morning,
buddy. He said, "The time has not come. The time will never
come where a student will demonstrate his inabilities to hold
his alcohol." He didn't say, he shouldn't drink. He said,
"Hold his alcohol, and if a student from Mars--." He just
went right on to it, "A student from Mars should visit Morehouse
College this day, he would find the atmosphere here so impressive,
so persuasive," and he used about five or six different adjectives
and everything and adverbs. He said, "that the least frivolous
And I asked one of them, "What
did he mean by that?"
"He means, 'Out you go. You
mess up, and out you go.'" He said, "I ain't going to tolerate
none of it," you see.
you tell me a little bit about your book?
named it Survival because I go through all the things,
you know, when leaving high school and going working on the
tobacco farm and working on the railroad and experiences and
so forth, you know. Then coming here and have to pay poll
tax to vote and all that type thing. I got all my poll tax
receipts I'm putting on there, you know, and everything, show
that even after serving with your military forces for your
country, you can't vote unless you pay this poll tax. Have
you ever seen one?
haven't. Let me see if I have one here.
at one point in time, you were Vice-mayor.
you explain a little bit about that? How they chose you to
be Vice- mayor?
I was active at the time, and then, I don't know whether it
had anything to do with it, but you know Dr. Cheeks was president
of Howard University at that time. That's my wife's first
cousin. And you know, boy says, "Rank has its privileges,
you see." And whenever we needed to go to Washington to see
somebody of influence there, I would always call Cheeks and
find out what day we could get in, you know.
He'd say, "I'll call you back."
He'd call, say, "You coming tomorrow?"
Said, "We can't come that quick."
"What about the next day?"
OK. Went up there when Reagan was in there. When Bush, when
Carter was in there. What's this black guy, was in charge
of Carter's office there? And Mrs. Dole now, I have met her.
She came through here doing something, campaigning for somebody,
and I gave her a big old spray of flowers out to the airport.
She remembered. Went up there to the Transportation Department
and got some money for the airport, just like that, you see.
Then when we went to the Department of Transportation for
the air, FAA, Federal Aviation Authority, one of the guys
I had known as a flyer over there, during the war, see. One
of the Tuskegee guys, he was up there in charge, and took
me and this white guy to lunch and talked about things. He
said, "Don't worry. Let me outline just how you all apply
for this money. You can get money every year, coming in."
And see, that's one reason why. They realize, you know, that.
The blacks, some of them now don't even know. I don't think
Charles or anybody knows because see Charles had told Rosenbaum,
the mayor, who to see, Ron Brown. You know Ron got killed
Ron Brown. Yes.
"See Ron Brown," you know.
And when we got back he said,
"Your influence wasn't as good as Doc's, here, because the
guy up there in the president's office asked us, 'Have you
been able to sell any of that grease to them Africans? And,
have you got straight with the Internal Revenue?'" (Laughter)
about Charles Young?
He didn't want to hear that. (Laughter) So, he said, "Man,
Doc's wife's cousin got us carte blanche up there in Washington."
You know. And we can get things done, you know.
attended Howard for four years of graduate school.
went to Moody's[?]. We went to get our bonds renewed and everything,
and I was spokesperson, talking about what all Meridian had
to offer, about the hospitals. You've got the heart surgeons
here. People come from all over to get that open heart surgery
here in Meridian and about the facilities here, educational
facilities and all like that, you know. And they were impressed
up there at Moody's. They took us all over New York, really.
I was just trying to think when we landed and went all around
that airport before we could get off the plane. And I had
a friend of mine, Malcolm Corey[?], who was with an investment
company there, and he was trying to get some of those bonds
and stuff. We'd had some guys from Jackson that just about
had it sewn up, you know, to get these bonds that they sell,
me just kind of regress a little bit more. Well, two things
I want to ask you. Let me start with the first thing: after
you came back from Germany, did you have any special observations
or reactions to Meridian?
I noticed a lot of things had changed, you know, that they
were attempting to rectify some wrongs. See, one thing about
it: Meridian has been unique. Remember the guy with NAACP
used to come here and speak? His son was up in Congress. But
he noticed one thing about Meridian. Meridian didn't have
no segregated areas. Blacks would live here. Whites next door,
and all that type thing. What was his name?
you talking about Jesse?
this was before Jesse's time. This was Clarence Mitchell.
And, they had opened up some housing things here, and they
were going to build some things that blacks--
Mitchell was out of Baltimore.
he was here in Meridian.
had him here a number of times. Stayed at my house twice when
he came here.
just mentioned that people lived all over the city. What is
the difference between, say, the Jackson movement and what
happened in Meridian?
mean as far as housing and things?
far as race relations and the level of the struggle?
blacks were able to have conversations more openly, you know.
And there weren't as many restrictions, you know, put on things.
When I got with the city, we started putting a lot of blacks
in positions. Secretaries, see. They hadn't had no black secretaries
in there, and I don't like to take credit. Charles said that
he told you something about my teaching them how to pass those
civil service exams. I had a class nearly every night teaching
females and males how to pass ARCO[?]. You know that book
about civil service. It was simple stuff, but see they had
never had contact with anything like that. And as a result,
people from Birmingham and all these places came down and
wanted to know how did we get our first black policeman, you
know. And, well, the people listened but it's funny how a
lot of blacks who were involved in some kind of some chicanery,
or some kind of shady deals, and things, say, "I ain't going
to let none of them niggers arrest me."
The chief of police told me,
he said, "What do you think about that?"
I said, "I think they should
He said, "I told them. I told
her." This lady used to gamble like a man. "I told all of
them that if he arrests you, you'd better go. If you don't,
we are going to double your charge, double your fine." He
said, "That settled that right then." You know, that they
[were] talking about, "We're not going with them." They thought
they were being impressive, you know, to the chief, telling
him something like that. But everything worked out pretty
good. Girl used to sell tickets at the theater. She made the
highest marks on those things. They made her a policewoman
at the schools or something, you know. Started her off and
then some of the others they gave jobs as patrolman, and so
forth. And we didn't have any problems after that, you know.
Let me ask you about when the civil rights workers, Chaney,
Schwerner, and Goodman got killed. What was the mood of people
and what was your reaction?
my only relation was I had some desks and some books and different
things. I turned them over to Schwerner when he came. But
I wasn't keeping up with their daily activities or what they
were doing or anything. In fact, I didn't know he had gone
away, and then he came back, you know. But there were some
people that knew about his activities and when he came back
and all like that, because if I had known at that time about
all that, you know, I knew Kemper County was a bad place.
That they would kill a black on sight. But I didn't know what
their involvement was in these churches and different places.
They were trying to get people to register. What I had been
involved with, the main thing I had been involved with, this
black boy, they called him Bilbo's son. He wasn't all there,
you know. Those kind of people just flocked to, when the whites
come try to help them, look like they take an attachment to
them. But this boy, I don't know whether he still lives here
or not, but they took him up there to register to vote, and
he got sick of those questions on there and he just wrote
on there, "Shit." They arrested him. They had a big trial
downtown. This lady, Ms. Heidelburg, Polly Heidelburg, you
may have heard of her?
fell out, you know. They had to take her upstairs there or
something. They were scared she was going to die. She just
got all excited. The courtroom down there. The little old
guy from Vicksburg, the lawyer, came here. What's his name?
Jess Brown. Do you know Jess Brown?
Jess walking on down there. He was really amusing. The judge
forgot what was going on. Jess was around walking and talking,
you know, everything. Yes, at that trial that day. I wish
you could get a copy of that trial.
you remember what year that was?
was sixty-three, sixty-two or sixty-three. And the whites
were there, curious, and blacks there, too, trying to see
what's going on, you know.
find that in the newspapers.
you can find that. Well, if I know the date, I go down and
look at the microfiche at the library.
What was the mood of the town, or your reaction after you
found out that they had gotten killed?
I was disgusted with the fact that they kept talking about
the boys were in Europe and they hadn't nobody done anything
to them. And all the time, see, they knew--the police knew,
the highway patrol. All of them were aware. When I found that
out later, that was so disgusting, you know, that they tried
to hide it. And the way we found out, later on, the way it
was said that Chaney was the first one that got it. Slapped
him up side the head with a pistol and said they believed
that killed him, that first blow he got. Here this other boy
had never even been here. They just passed through Meridian,
I understand. But a lot of blacks were talking about, "They
went up to Philadelphia and they're missing," you know.
I said, "Why y'all let them
go up to Philadelphia?"
Said, "They didn't want to
stop. He wanted to show him this place up there in Philadelphia.
Church was burned," and all that type thing, you know. They
said then, "Boy, blacks better get some guns or do something
there," because, it was too much. They didn't know how many
were from Meridian, but they knew some of them were, you know.
Hold it just a minute, let me see.
(There is a brief interruption
in the tape.)
you met, staying in your house?
you are too young to remember Compton-Simmons, the great black
orator. Roscoe Compton-Simmons? You've heard about him?
Did you know Charles V. Willie?
He was my professor at Syracuse. I did graduate work in sociology.
was the guy used to practice hypnotizing folks, and all that.
I've got Johnny Cochran[?] here somewhere.
(There is a brief interruption
in the tape.)
you just back up just a minute? Medgar used to come over there
all the time?
And, see, a lot of kids that went back to school would ride
with him, you know, back to Jackson, because they were catching
the bus going back, and he would take them all the way out
to Tougaloo when he came in his. And I was telling him, in
his position, I showed him my garage door, you know, that
I had put myself, a radio-controlled, automatic. When I drive
up, I press a button, and my door comes down, either up or
down. And I was telling him he needs that. He didn't need
no open garage like he had, you know. And when he got killed,
I said, "Oh, God, I wish Medgar had gone ahead and enclosed
his garage." And the guy would have had a harder time trying
to snipe him.
what kind of relationship did you have with Medgar?
a good one. We used to meet all the time up in Mound Bayou
and places. See, I got a life membership through Medgar. These
guys are kind of funny here, with the life membership. They
would take the money, you know, and fool around, and I got
my life membership through Medgar.
you and Medgar do any special things here for the Meridian
get together programs. See, a guy tried to take Medgar off
the bus one night to beat him up and had to look into that,
you know. Did you know about that?
I have heard that.
we had to go through all of that. This old taxi driver. Sat
on the rear, thought about it, you know, doing something for
him, you know. We got to the point where we said, "Can't take
it no more," you know.
that was a Meridian taxi driver?
they had been at an NAACP meeting?
He just saw a lot of us down there, seeing him on the bus.
Getting him on the bus. Just like when Aaron Henry came here,
we made sure that he didn't go a direct route back to Clarksdale,
see. He didn't go through Jackson or nothing like that. We
sent him around through Alabama and on back up one of those
roads, up, see, which would give him a more direct path, as
seventeen goes right on up, you know. And you cut across.
Yes, we were aware of these guys. They were vicious. Most
of them suffering. The very one, they say, that shot in my
house, that's been to me to try to get some drugs for pain.
Would you believe it? White as a sheet. Complexion looked
like he is anemic. No blood or nothing. Now tell me, he got
nerve enough to come, you know, hassle me here. Got gall,
haven't you? Some kind of gall.
you know Charles Evers?
sure, I know Charles. He used to be up there in Philadelphia,
you know. Had a funeral home up there.
you do any coordinating of any kind of activities with him?
worked with the United States Public Health. See, I was a
consultant to them for a while and I helped to get that Medgar
Evers Clinic. I picked out the equipment for it, you know.
I went down there with the people from Public Health. They
came through here and I drove down there with them.
yes. I worked for a number of years with Public Health. I
was a consultant for the University of Puerto Rico Dental
Program. We took some black girls down there with us, you
know. They got a little certificate for going to the University
of Puerto Rico and all that. Yes, we had a time. I got all
that in that book, you know.
you were just thinking in terms of the most significant individuals
in Meridian, who do you think contributed most to bring about
the changes, white or black?
of the Jewish leaders, because they realized they were in
the same boat that we were and some of the black preachers
that had insight.
you recall any of them?
know there was a Reverend Porter here and then Reverend Johnson,
Charles Johnson and Allen Johnson came up here. Allen was
here one time, too. Do you know him? Do you know Big Allen?
Yes, he is a great, big red guy.
Now, you mentioned Mrs. Heidelberg?
Could you tell me a little bit about her?
was really trying to get in the mainstream of things and she
was so sincere with what she did, you know. Then you had another
one, Mrs. Whitlock. She got scared thinking that the police
wanted to kill her. She just came out recently. She'd lock
herself in, put all that stuff around her house out there.
See, her house out there on Forty-seventh Avenue, got all
that tin and everything around it. Thought they wanted to
kill her. Taxis. You know our taxis parked in certain areas
would get a call, if they got a call in that area, she said
they [were] out there watching her, and all that. She really
got paranoid, you know. But she has come around, now. She
walks everywhere and goes places. But at first, Ms. Heidelberg
didn't give a durn about nothing. She would go anywhere. She
would get up and talk. She would disturb anything. (Laughter)
She'd come down to the City Council, "I'm getting tired of
all this stuff. Now y'all got to do something about this and
that." She did it.
"Yeah, Polly. Yeah, Polly.
Yeah, Ms. Polly." They got to where they'd call her Ms. Polly,
you know. "Yes, Ms. Polly. We going to do this and we going
to do that," you know.
her family well-to-do, or anything like that?
Her husband was a porter on the train at IC. One of those
trains. Illinois Central, I think it was.
Ms. Heidelberg was just a concerned citizen?
I won't say she was literate, but she was semi-literate, you
know. When they had that Star School at the Catholics, they
were teaching older folks how to read. She was proud of the
fact that she went out there and learned how to read. Seventy-something
years old and said she went out there and learned how to read.
this was a black woman. Black as tar. They had a write-up
about her in the New York Times. I saw it. Where
were we going? We were going to Puerto Rico, I think, or Hawaii.
Where were we going, and somebody showed me in Atlanta, it
was in the New York Times how Polly Heidelberg got
her picture in the magazine section of the New York Times.
was in Slager's[?] book. He mentioned her.
Let me ask you this.
(End of tape one, side two.
The interview continues on tape two, side one.)
used to let him use my .45 I brought from the Army because
he would go out and he was a marksman. He knew how to shoot.
And they say he's the one that shot, but they didn't say anything
about that here. The policeman that knew it, they didn't see
anything illegal. They shot the back of that gal's head off,
you know. She came up here from Mobile with that boy. Have
you read about that?
Lives For Mississippi?
Huie? Is that the one you are talking about?
You talking about the lady in Montgomery or Selma? This girl,
she just joined up with these guys over in Jackson, and she
rode over here with them that night to dynamite this man's
whose house was that?
to be Mize[?]. Mize Davis. That's his name. Mize Davis.
what was his involvement? Why were they after him?
they were helping support the black causes, you know. And,
well, they had already bombed the synagogue out there, you
know. And they got this (inaudible) bomb, that guy that investigates
all that stuff here when something happened to those Jews,
you see. And they started putting money out and found out
all kinds of things. Then they would report and tell us different
ones who were doing different things. Got a line on--.
(The tape is interrupted by
a ringing telephone.)
you had an opportunity to do anything with the Sovereignty
Commission files yet.
were saying that the defining moment in Meridian was around
the passing of the civil rights legislation, the Civil
you remember when they first integrated Meridian High School?
the police chief was very forward in telling me he wasn't
going to stand for no mess.
was his name?
Gunn. He let them know in the beginning they wouldn't have
no foolishness, you know, with that. They intended to integrate
it without any problems. And they did, you know. They may
have had one or two incidents, but I think that was it.
the school system and law enforcement worked together to make
that a smooth transition, then?
you play a role in that at all?
the transition. Keeping the lid on.
Tried to. Meetings, you know, this church, this bishop you
got there now. Bishop of the Episcopal Church. What's the
name? He is in Jackson. They had a meeting not long ago. Somebody
wrote a book about that, about we had meetings up to the Episcopal
Church and determined what strategies should be used. I bought
a book, too, from that guy, that wrote a book telling about
how brave and everything that this bishop had been and how
they had threatened him and everything. What is his name?
What is that bishop's name? I should know.
is over in Jackson, now?
find his name. I can't recall it. I would just like to know
if you have any special remarks or observations about Meridian
and what has transpired and the changes that have come about
and where do we go from here.
one thing about it, most of the young people refuse to come
back to Meridian. We have a number of persons who are physicians
and lawyers and all types of fields of endeavors, but they
don't come back home on the average. They don't come back.
I don't know whether they think that people don't appreciate
them here or what it is.
But, now, you should come--. I'm going to give you an invitation,
now. The Mississippi Picnic will be held here next year, around
July. Just before the fourth of July, and you are going to
have people from all over the world that have left Meridian
coming back here. Usually have around 6,000 people there.
That would be good, you know. Have all kind of entertainment.
All kind of food and everything here. Take Dr. Leroy Ramsey,
he's a graduate of Jackson State, I think. He teaches in,
well he may be retired now, in New York at the, I forget what
borough it is, but he is very popular. He has written a book,
too. You've got this girl, an architect over there at Georgia
Tech, she and her husband designed that gym over there in
the place where the Olympics were held. And a little bitty
fellow from here who is part of the research and development
at Morehouse now from Meridian, and who else is coming there?
You never did know H.M. Thompson, did you, from Jackson?
wife Cleopatra comes. She taught at Jackson State. Their son
is up in Washington. They call him the little doctor and the
little governor. He teaches physics and he is head of the
computer training in D.C. We have a lot of people who just
left. I don't know. Maybe one day they will all get together
and what a wonderful day that will be, I suppose.
want to thank you for taking time to go over your experiences
with us. Thank you very much.
(End of interview.)