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.
Mr. Willie T. Allen was born
February 26, 1930, in southwest Grenada County, Mississippi.
He started school as an eight-year-old. He was graduated from
Grenada Colored High School in 1951. When he finished high
school, he was drafted into the Army. In 1953, Mr. Allen returned
to Mississippi. He was graduated from college in the fifties,
and took his first position working at a school in Holcomb,
Mississippi. He worked in schools, both as a teacher and as
an administrator, from 1956 to 1980.
In 1957, Mr. Allen registered
to vote and was subsequently informed by the FBI the he was
on the Ku Klux Klan's "list." Despite harassment from racist
organizations and individuals, Mr. Allen was active in the
civil rights movement, assisting other African-Americans to
register to vote.
Army life at Fort Benning, Georgia
College years 6
Anna T. Jeannes Fund 7
Working at Holcomb School 7
Registering to vote 12
Poll tax 14
Getting drafted 16
Ku Klux Klan 18
Helping others register to vote
James Meredith 22
Marching for integration 24
Gladys Noel Bates 27
Segregation on buses 28
A.B.J.W. Museum 30
AN ORAL HISTORY
This is an interview for
the Civil Rights Documentation Project. The interview is with
Mr. Willie T. Allen and is taking place on February 18, 2000.
The interviewer is Worth Long.
you tell me your name and where and when you were born, please?
Allen: My name
is Willie T. Allen. A-L-L-E-N. I was born February 26, 1930.
This is February 18, and next Saturday, February 26, I will
be seventy years old. I was born in southwest Grenada County,
and I lived there all my life except the two years I was away
in the Army, and three years I was away in college.
What about your early childhood? Tell me about growing up.
Allen: My early
childhood, I was brought up in southwest Grenada County, out
by a church. We said where we were from according to the community.
Mount Carmel and the Sweet Home, both of them are churches,
and they are still in existence. That's where I was brought
up. My mother--. We lived so far from the school, my mother
wouldn't let me walk, and I didn't start to school until I
was eight years old. There were no compulsory school laws
at that time. In fact, the plantation owners or the farm owners
didn't care whether you went to school or not, if you were
black. It didn't make any difference. Just so a parent had
a lot of children, is all they were concerned about, to work
Long: OK. So,
what was the economy in that area?
economy in that area from 1930, and 1940, was very poor. If
I had had a tenth of what I have now, I'd have been considered
a rich person. But we didn't have. The economy was very poor,
and my daddy worked a many-a day on the WPA and the PWA for
fifteen cents an hour. He used to walk from southwest Grenada
County to Grenada, the town of Grenada, about ten or twelve
miles. Walk and work for fifteen cents an hour, and they went
up a quarter. And they didn't go up to forty cents until around
1940 when Camp McCain[?] was built. World War II. I'll say
it like that.
Now, were people in your area treated equally?
They never have been. And until this very day, they're not
treated equally. No.
do you mean by that?
Allen: I finished
high school in 1951. Grenada Colored High School. And I have
never ridden a bus a day in my life. When I went back, to
teach out at Holcomb about ten miles west of Grenada, they
had buses for black folk. But I walked to school and the white
children rode to school. I don't know where they were going,
where the school was because we went--. Well, a school was
at every church. And the Sweet Home School was one of the
first schools I went to. I went to the Mount Carmel School
a few days. I don't know how long, but I was living right
across the hill. But when we moved over to the Sweet Home
Community, I was living about four or five miles from the
school, and I started when I was eight years old. And I went
there until I finished the third grade. When I moved to Grenada,
I was fourth grade.
So, what was your perception of Grenada from that early age?
an early age, my perception of Grenada is it was home. I loved
it. I still do. I go back. The museum is on Old Highway 51,
used to be. And it's Martin Luther King Boulevard, now.
museum are you referring to?
Museum. It's a community museum, but the A.B.J.W. stands for
Allens, Berry, Jones, Week[?]. Those are my family and my
Long: OK. So,
your perception was, this was home for you.
is home. This was home. It's still home. When I say, "I'm
going home," my wife understands. A lot of other people don't
understand. You called me in Jackson, but home is Grenada.
are your best memories about?
the best memories are going to the black school. They had
empathy, moments of empathy for us. They said, "You have to
learn in spite of." Otherwise, as poor as I was, I would have
never been educated. I would have never finished high school,
if they hadn't had empathy. I was a pretty good football player
fifty years ago.
position did you play?
Allen: I played
quarterback. I weighed 190, and I couldn't get to 200. A hundred
and ninety, fifty years ago, was a pretty big man. And I played
quarterback. I played both ways.
Now, quarterback was different then, wasn't it? Did you have
single wing? Or (inaudible.)
Allen: We had
single wing. We had double wing. We had a little T-formation,
but mostly it was single wing. And my junior and senior year,
I believe, we had a man came in to coach us, and they taught
us the T-formation.
Long: I see.
But we started off with single wing. No guards over your face.
Just plain, old helmet (inaudible)-grained, red-grained, and
where did you get this equipment?
We got it from the white school that later became John[?]
(inaudible) Runnels[?] School. And the home economics department,
if our top or pants got torn, they would sew them up the next
day. And the shirts were, before forty-six, we had some football
shirts in 1946, but in forty-four and forty-five, we had sweatshirts
with numbers painted on them. But in 1946, we got some red
jerseys; my number was twenty-nine.
Long: And twenty-nine,
you were a--?
Now, you can look at the number a fellow has on and tell what
position he plays, but then, you could not. My number was
twenty-nine, and I played in the back field and quarterback.
I also wore the number sixty about 1950 because I finished
school in fifty-one, but I went up to Oxford, and wore number
sixty because they were looking for me. I had made three or
four touchdowns in the game before, and they were looking
to stop me, so I just changed numbers with a fellow, and I
had run three touchdowns before they realized I was the same
fellow they were looking for.
pretty good. What other good memories can you think of from
your family life?
my father and mother were very supportive of me. I did not
have to go to school, but my daddy used to ask me questions
at night. The states and capitols and the presidents. In fact,
I used to brag, when I finished college, you could give me
a blank map of the world, and I'd fill it out. Mountain ranges,
oceans, rivers, countries, anything you want, and the memories
in Grenada at that time, everybody was so helpful. I owe my
being now to so many people (inaudible.) Mrs. Rayford[?],
she was a black medical doctor's wife. Ms. (Inaudible), she
was the principal. Mr. Buchanan, he was the principal. Ms.
Reid[?], she taught second grade under me, after I had finished
college and went back and was the head teacher. There are
so many people. Ms. Clark, Mildred Williams. You name them.
(Inaudible.) You just name them, they helped me and helped
everybody else they could help. But (inaudible) is hard.
What about advanced education? How did you get inspired to
take a chance--?
Allen: I went--.
Take a chance. I went in the Army. When I finished high school,
they put me in the Army, and I was with the fellow that taught
me. I was a clerk typist in the Army. A service record clerk,
and the fellow that taught me had finished at NYU, and his
last name was Jones. Another fellow that taught me finished
at the University of Kansas. I was with fellows from UCLA,
Colorado, and Illinois. You name it. And quite often they
would talk about things (inaudible.) And in the Army, I was
down in Fort Benning, Georgia. They had a good library, and
I would go to the library. And sometimes I wouldn't understand
it, and I'd come back. Those are the good experiences in the
Army, but telling me what to do day and night and what time
to get up--I didn't like it. And I spent two years, and got
out, and went back to college.
Now, all those men you talk about, did they have a common
experience of having been born in black communities?
They weren't black. Owens, I remember him. He was from the
University of Kansas. [He] is the one that taught, actually
taught the typing class. Jones was black. He had finished
at NYU, and one of my fellows with me, Stanley, he was from
somewhere in Connecticut. I don't remember the person from
UCLA, but he was there. No, they didn't have a common experience.
All of us were in the Army. That was common. The Korean War
was going on.
Long: I see.
So, had President Truman at that time, already--.
had integrated. Truman integrated in the late--. I mean he
gave the order to integrate in the late forties, but when
I went in there--. I was talking to her about that last week.
When I went in I came from Fort Jackson. I took my training
at Fort Jackson, South Carolina, from fall of fifty-one to
spring of fifty-two. And I stayed at Fort Jackson a while
and went on to Benning. And at that time you could have--.
Long: To Fort
Benning, Georgia. At that time--. At Columbus. And Fort Jackson
is at Columbia, South Carolina, where the Rebel flag hangs
over the capitol, now. But I went down to Georgia, and I went
in the barracks about eleven o'clock, and they could have
civilian clothes hanging on the wall. And there's something
about clothes, at least then, that you could tell the color
of the person wearing them. And I said to myself--. Was nobody
there but me, and somebody had given me (inaudible), they
had given me the bed and the sheets and assigned me a bunk.
And I looked up at the clothes. I said, "There are no black
folks here." And sure enough, when they came home at twelve,
wasn't one black in there. I was the first black, and that
afternoon, Stanley--. I don't know his first name. I forget
the first name, but I remember he was from Connecticut. He
was black. Real black. (Laughter.) And he came in and a lot
of us came in after then. Jones, that taught me was black,
and he was from NYU, but he lived in our barracks.
So, they were putting the different soldiers together?
Sure. I never was in a segregated outfit. We took basic training
in an integrated outfit, and where I worked, when I went down
to Fort Benning, and I worked in the personnel office (inaudible)
and it was integrated.
Now, how did that compare to your growing up?
Allen: It was
different. The first real contact--. Real. I had contact with
a lot of whites in Grenada. Dennis Bakery, on Green Street,
D-E-N-N-I-S. Dennis Bakery. It was on Green Street, and I
worked there. Mr. and Mrs. Dennis [were] both white, and they
helped me out a whole lot. And anyways, [if] I could work,
I would work. We had to work. Wasn't any giveaway program
like now. I believed in work. When you called me for this
interview, I was working. Getting ready to paint.
Long: The ceiling.
ceiling, yeah. (Laughter.) Painting it with a roller.
Well, I'm happy that you're here for this because you already
have given me some information that I think is very valuable;
that lets us see the time that you grew up in.
from thirty till--. I've talked about from the time I was
born, 1930 until fifty-one or fifty-two when I went back.
I finished college in fifty-six. I went year-round[?] when
I came back.
did you go? Tell me about coming back during the time of the
Allen: I came
back in 1953.
Long: And you
Allen: I had
done nine hours at Jackson State University here in Jackson
and six hours at Savannah State while I was in the Army. I
went there and took some extension courses. When I came back
in the fall of fifty-three, September fifty-three, I had fifteen
hours of college work, and I went year-round. That's the reason
I got out in three years, and I got out in 1956. And my wife
had finished college, Jackson State University, in 1954. And
when we got married, I wanted to be at home, Grenada, Coffeeville,
Winona, Greenwood, or somewhere. I applied all around there.
And they took me out at Holcomb[?] which is ten miles from
Grenada. So, I stayed at home every night. And I got a B--.
Long: And that's
what you call Holcomb?
Everybody in Grenada, around Grenada, knows where Holcomb
Long: OK. And
the superintendent for the schools--
Allen: At that
time, they had a city superintendent, separate school district
superintendent, and a county superintendent, but later on
because of the size of the Grenada pupil population, they
put it all under one superintendent, which was the Grenada
Municipal Separate School District, and the Board of Supervisors
appointed three, I believe. And the City Council of Grenada
appointed two board members to the Board and the Board naturally
ran, manned the school.
was the influence of the 1954 school decision on your schools
up in Grenada?
when they started building. They called--. They built the
school so fast, they called them, "nigger blocks." They started
throwing up buildings, schools for black folks.
Cinder blocks. And they were durable, but they started throwing
them up as stack barn[?] instead of a running barn[?]. They
started throwing them up in a hurry in the 1954 school decision.
I was living in Jackson when the 1954 school decision came
down. Somebody versus the Board of--. Brown. Brown versus
the Board of Education. I used to didn't forget all that,
but I'm old, now, and I forget a whole lot of stuff.
but you remember a whole lot more. (Laughter.)
Long: Be proud
of that. So, that school decision impacted your community.
Long: So, that
means the person who hired you, evidently knew something about
the person who hired me was a Mrs. Lola Moore[?]. She was
a Jeannes supervisor [an Anna T. Jeannes Fund supervisor],
and a Jeannes supervisor, at least in Grenada County, had
a big say-so in the black schools. See, this was 1956.
Long: OK. We're
going to need a little history about that. The Jeannes program.
Tell me what that was and where the grants went.
Jeannes--. I don't know a whole lot about the Jeannes. I just
know that people that I used to know were Jeannes teachers
and I think they got the name from a person whose last name
It was kind of like Rosenwald.
I remember the Rosenwald School. In fact, I was over a Rosenwald
School over at Oxbury[?]. From Holcomb about ten--. No, Holcomb
is about ten miles from Grenada and Oxbury is about a mile
and a half or two miles from Holcomb. And I was over Holcomb
School and a school at Oxbury. And the school at Oxbury was
a Rosenwald School. I think back to the Jeannes supervisor.
Miss Moore, I think was the Jeannes supervisor, and she had
known me, I guess, through high school. And when I applied,
see, men, in those days, my age, a lot of black men either
didn't go to school, or Daddy wouldn't let them, or put them
in the field. But my daddy wasn't an educated man by his standards,
but by my standards, now, and while I was teaching, he was
a very smart person. He was very, very smart. But she hired
me. That's about the--. I don't know the history of the Jeannes
teachers, but I know they had a whole lot of those at black
schools. I believe they got the name from a person named Jeannes.
I don't know.
But they were trying to uplift the African-American schools.
That's (inaudible.) So, in what department were you put?
Allen: I majored
in social science, but out there in the black school, when
they built the school out of cinder block and brick, they
built it in a hurry, and they had a clinic there. Well, everybody
that got sick, I took them home, anyway. And in the clinic,
I took my carpentry skills and built some shelves. And books
of science. I put orange paint on the books of black history;
I put black paint on the books of--. (Inaudible) I put green
paint on them and I'd tell all the children, "Go in the clinic
and library," I called it. "And get you a book with black
paint on it." The color. I had a color scheme instead of a
Library of Congress or whatever thing.
were color coded.
Color coded. A long time. We had banks, credit union. Our
school was set up kind of like the Congress is set up.
So, you had the Allen Dewey Decimal System. (Laughter.)
I guess, if you really want to call it that. I had a Congress,
and in the Congress had the House and the Senate.
Allen: I had
a president. I had a Supreme Court. And they could do everything
but punish. They couldn't punish. I was the czar. I was the
punishment. They mete out (inaudible.) And at that time, I
was teaching, I believe, eighth grade history or something.
Or seventh grade. We used to go out on the highway. Highway
30 ran right by our school, and I would--. At that time, the
numbers of the county--. Grenada County was number twenty-two,
and a car would pass. Eighty-one was Yalobusha[?], I believe,
or Tallahatchee[?] or something. But anyhow, all the cars
that passed there, this was Mississippi history, and I didn't
want them to learn eighty-two counties in Mississippi was
all there was. And I told them, and we learned it very well.
And I was talking to a person that I taught in fourth and
fifth grade about two years ago, that had a Master's degree.
And she is working in Chicago, now. And she said, "I had that
kind of stuff forty years ago. A man named Mr. Allen taught
(Inaudible) said, "What kind
of school did you go to?" See, what happened, a lot of people
didn't care whether black poor folks learned anything. I didn't
have a telephone. I didn't have a secretary. I didn't have
anything. I didn't have a librarian. I served as all of that.
And so, I (inaudible), the first day of school the teachers
I had, had to start teaching because over the summertime,
I had got some city workers to do the bookcards, the bulletin
board, and the names in books. So, we didn't have a reason
not to start teaching. We started teaching the first day of
school, and we quit the last day of school.
Now, where did your books come from, early on?
books came from the state. See, the books are--. Governor
Paul Johnson started a free book program, I think it was forty-one,
when I was still in the ordinary school. The first few years,
I had to buy my books, but by the time I got back and started
teaching, all the books came from the state. We had books.
OK. And they were in good condition?
Our books were. Most of them. Yeah. Most of them were. The
books, the last four or five years, we got new books. And
put their names. And books and book cards and bulletin boards,
that's what we did in the summer. City workers.
let me summarize the way you organized for education.
pedagogy was that you got people involved. You had a Congress
Supreme Court. Congress, House, and Senate, and then, Supreme
Court, and the president.
Long: So, if
I were a student, how would I get to be a Congressman?
or three ways. I know the number one way, but two or three
ways. I'd tell them the right way. And I think, they were
elected like Congressmen now, from the grades instead of the
districts. From the grades. The Senate, I believe it was upper
grades. It's been so long ago, but I don't know how I got
the Supreme Court. I remember, if you were a student, you
had a chance to be any one of those branches.
So, based on your seniority, and then based on what else?
people had better judgement, I thought, than the first-grade
Long: OK. So
now, what if some important person's child came in? How would
you handle the question of--?
Allen: I don't
know about important people. Everybody in that school was
important to me. Every child in that school was important
to me. I have never--. Because out of all those good treatments
I had, I told you about, I did have some bad ones because
I was poor. People just don't like poor folks, and I was brought
up (inaudible.) Be clean. I'm dirty, now.
I've got holes, and my wife--.
Yeah, I was painting. I was working in my shop and painting.
Long: But one
thing is to be clean, and the other? If you're poor, you're
some book-learning, as my daddy would have said. Education.
And there was no such thing as marijuana and cocaine and stuff.
I didn't know about anything but "white lightning"; that's
a type of whiskey. And that's all I knew about at that time.
And so, you say: keep your self clean. Keep your clothes clean,
Keep yourself clean. Keep your clothes clean.
Long: And then,
you say education.
And stay away from the distractions.
Yeah. It's going to be plenty of distractions to distract
you and me and everybody else. Stay away from it.
And that way, you're respected, even though you're poor.
Allen: I am
respected by the older folks now. The younger folks don't
know me. I've been away too many years from Grenada except
when I go back up there. And I served eight years on the city
council before I was--. The governor summoned me to Jackson
to serve in his cabinet.
So, we'll talk about that, later.
let me talk about what led up to that. Now, you were working
in the schools in Grenada.
from fifty-six to eighty.
OK. Let me hear about what happened when freedom came. What
when freedom came--. By the way, I used to quote the Constitution
verbatim from the First Amendment. At that time, it wasn't
but twenty-seven. I don't know how--. I think it's twenty-seven
now, but at that time, it wasn't but about twenty-one or twenty-two
amendments to the Constitution. I can still tell you about
the Thirteenth, Fourteenth, and Fifteenth Amendments, and
the First Amendment and some other--. But I believe it's the
Twenty--. But anyhow--.
the Thirteenth did what?
Thirteenth abolished slavery.
Long: OK, and
give the right to citizenship and the Fifteenth give the right
to vote, or vice versa.
Long: No. You
somewhere in that area.
Long: Due process
in the Fourteenth. Yeah. So, you--.
a person born or naturalized in the United States is subject
to the jurisdiction of the state wherein they reside. That's
the Fourteenth Amendment.
Long: A citizen
of the United States.
entirely correct. I had to memorize it to help people take
I took the exam. (Laughter.)
me about that. What kind of exam are we talking about, here?
talking about a stupid exam to vote. I have to back up and
tell you about that. I went to school, as I told you, out
to Jackson State. And I had a professor named Dr. E.L. Tatum,
and all the time, we called Dr. Tatum crazy. People wouldn't
go to him unless they had to go. I went to Dr. Tatum six times,
and when I went to register to vote, I filled out a legal
sheet, and one of the questions was about the levee board,
1927. And I wrote what the levee board was designed for, why
it was established, and the man looked at me at the Grenada
County courthouse and said, "What do you do?"
I said, "I am a school teacher,
ever since 1957." And I took the paper back up there to him.
And he said, "You didn't fill
out the back."
I just said to myself, "There's
enough questions on the front. I didn't know it was the back,
too." And one of the other questions was: The military government
is subservient to the civil government. Or something like
that. And I explained that. And so, I took my wife back in
there the next day.
The first thing the man asked
her, "Are you Willie T. Allen's wife?"
And she said, "Yes, sir. I
Said, "We're closed." Same
time I had gone there on Thursday; we went back [Friday].
She said, "Thank you. I'll--."
(End of tape one, side one.
The interview continues on tape one, side two.)
said, "Thank you. I'll] come back Monday."
When I went in to [register
to] vote, I told my wife, "You stay in the car. Keep the motor
running." Because it was dangerous to register to vote, but
the next day when I took her back I said, "I'm not going to
stay in the car. I'm going to be in the hall, right by the
door. But the car is outside, and I'm going to come in the
hall by the door." And I heard him. I was standing outside
He said, "Are you Willie T.
She said, "Yes, I am."
And said, "We're closed."
She said, "OK. I'll be back
Monday." And after both of us got on the book, I haven't missed
a time but once. I have missed one, since 1957. This is 2000.
me an estimate of about how many people were on the books.
Allen: I don't
know about the white. Fifty.
And what general occupation were they? In Grenada County?
who the white people wanted to vote. It was random. One person
I know couldn't read. He was a black man, but he was favored
by the white power structure and Ms. Johnson[?], the principal
of the school, was on there. My wife and I, and this person
that couldn't read. I could call his name, but I don't want
to. They didn't have many, but I don't know how--.
this person you were referring to, whose name you won't call,
is still alive?
Long: Oh, I
he's not alive, but he's got some relatives in Grenada, but
he couldn't read.
Long: Can I
ask just one other question?
kind of work did he do?
Allen: He was
a business man. If I told you, the business profession, I
mean, people would know. But he was a business man.
Long: OK. So,
I won't ask another question. I won't ask if he was a barber
or ran a restaurant.
Allen: I don't
want to denigrate anybody.
not doing that kind of interview. And I respect what you're
doing here, but I did want to kind of understand what kind
of relationship he had to power, so, that's why I was asking.
Allen: I don't
know. I think he knew a lot of big white folks. I think. I
don't know, but I know he was on the books, and he voted.
Long: OK. Now,
did you register as a Democrat or Republican?
No. No. I had to pay poll tax for two years and had to have
two consecutive poll tax receipts.
Long: OK. How
much was poll tax back then, if you can remember?
dollars, I think. I think it was two dollars.
Long: And where
did you have to go to pay that?
Allen: At the--.
Shoot! The same place you payed other taxes, your property
taxes. I believe.
Long: OK. Now,
you were registering to vote and willing to vote at a time
when it was dangerous to do that. I mean, why would you do
that? I don't quite understand it.
I would do it? You know, I told you about Dr. Tatum and the
Constitution? I was teaching a book, eighth-grade American
history called This Is the American Story. And I
knew it so well. Of course, I had studied at night. I never
opened a book in class. And a person in the class said, "Mr.
Allen, do you vote?"
I said, "No." I said, "But
next time you ask me, I will have tried."
He said, "Oh, no! (Inaudible)
I didn't mean that." He's in Chicago, now. I could call his
name, too, but I mentioned it to him since they opened the
museum. He was standing, looking at all the stuff.
I said, "You know, you are
the--." I will call his name because he's still living, and
it was good. His name is Joseph Rayford Homan[?].
Long: Mr. Homan?
He is and was a smart, smart person. He said, "No, I didn't
ask you for you to get in trouble. I asked you because you
know all of these things." As I told you, I could probably
quote the Constitution. You asked me the rest of the Fourteenth
Amendment; I can't go any further than it went. (Laughter.)
The rest of it didn't mean a whole lot. There's a whole lot
more to the Fourteenth, and you know it, and you know what
I didn't know. That's why--. I mean, that's one reason. Other
reason is, I had been thinking about it. In college, in speech
arts, you had to write a thirty-minute speech, a five-minute
speech and so on, and my five-minute speech was on voter rights.
Long: And that
was at Jackson State?
Allen: At Jackson
State back in the fifties. Fifty-four and fifty-five.
And who would have been teaching that back then?
wasn't teaching it. In speech arts, she asked--. You had to
write a speech, and that was in a speech. I wrote it, and
I practiced it with a mirror, and everybody else practiced
lip movement and eye contact, and all of that, and part of
[a] speech. And that was my speech. She wasn't teaching it.
Other than Dr. Tatum, Dr. Tatum taught Constitution, he wasn't
talking about civil rights. He was teaching constitutional
Long: So, the
U.S. Constitution is what he would teach.
government is what he was teaching in speech, is what she
was teaching. Naw, they didn't teach me. Somehow it embedded
in me that I know these things, and I know a lot of people--.
See, other words, you couldn't be a notary. You couldn't serve
on a jury. A lot of things you couldn't do, if you wasn't
a registered citizen. And to be a citizen, you had to be registered
Now, you were in the service?
Long: You didn't
have to be a registered voter to be inducted into the service?
Allen: I guess
you didn't. Guess you didn't because I went in service in
Now, did you volunteer?
me about that.
drafted me. That's all I can tell you. They drafted me.
Long: How old
were you, then?
Allen: I was
twenty. I didn't want to go to Canada. I didn't want to be
a draft-dodger, so, I went into the service. For two years.
Hoping I didn't go to Korea.
Did you go anywhere other than Fort Jackson?
Jackson and Fort Benning.
I had, I guess it was a critical (inaudible.) We in the personnel
office sent people to Korea and to Germany and most all of
them wanted to go to the European theater or (inaudible),
that was called the place command, (inaudible.)
was in Japan.
Korea. Well, they didn't take soldiers, but most of the fighting
was going on in Korea. North and South Korea. And it was mainly
South Korea because when they got up the Yellow[?] River,
I believe, that's where North Korea started.
Long: So, you
were an administrative person. So, you had to do the paperwork.
I did a lot of paperwork for people to go over there. Paperwork
for discharges. Paperwork for AWOL. Paperwork for anything
else in the company.
Long: Was there
any contradiction in the fact that they could draft you into
the service as a citizen, that you could fight for your country
as a citizen, and that you could not vote as a citizen?
it was a contradiction I thought of when you asked the question,
but I didn't challenge it. I was going to spend two years
there and get out. I knew that when I left, that I was going
to stay there as long as they required me to stay there, without
getting into trouble.
Long: But you
got home, and you were willing to get into trouble? After
you had been in service?
I wasn't--. I am not--. I was not doing anything illegal.
I never have. I've always worked for what I get. I either
ask you for it. If you were to leave thirty cents, now; when
you get back, it would be thirty cents there, because I wouldn't
bother it. If I needed it, I would ask you for it. "Lend me
this." And, "Lend me that."
So, the question I guess I have to ask is, was your country
being honest with you?
Long: So, what
did people do? Say, people returning from service and other
people, what did they decide they were going to do during
this freedom [movement]?
Allen: I think
they'd have helped because the company that I was in, everybody
went to Korea, and about three months after I was there, I
called him my boy, but he was a man, soldier named Alford[?]
wrote me a letter back, and he told me that he had got his
leg blown off. And a boy from North Carolina and his last
name was Cronk[?]. We called him Baby. [He] had got killed
and Elwood Cobb[?] right here in Jackson had shrapnel in his
chest. He's still living. I see him quite often.
Long: He was
Elwood Cobb. He has a Purple Heart now. He was a schoolteacher
up at one of the high schools there, up where I lived. I believe.
But anyhow, he had a Purple Heart. And the company got all
messed up, and that wasn't the company I was in, but as I
told you before, I had false teeth. And I was taking all the
(inaudible) to go to Korea at Fort (inaudible) Washington
with the rest of them. I believe it was Fort (inaudible) Washington,
somewhere. I don't know (inaudible) the rest of them. And
we were supposed to ship out on Tuesday, and it was Friday
and a person down at the dental clinic said, "You don't have
to go, soldier, if you don't want to."
I said, "What's wrong?"
He said, "You can stay here
and get your teeth fixed."
I said, "Well, I'm going to
stay." And then I went down to Georgia. That's why I didn't
go to Korea. I had to have my teeth fixed.
But you were in a central area, and you were saying--.
when I went to Georgia I was in a central area, and they told
me to be a service record clerk, and, I must say, I was good
at it. I was very good. Efficient. In the
Army, you don't have to type a whole lot of words a minute.
You have to be correct serial numbers and (inaudible) this.
It has to be correct. I was pretty proficient. When they wanted
to write to the Third Army Headquarters in Atlanta, they called
me. That was before I left office, not when I first went in
Now, were there other veterans who were doing what you were
Yeah, there were. (Inaudible) to name one?
and Medgar and all of us came--.
and Medgar who?
Evers was younger than I am. See, Charles is already about
seventy-five or seventy-six. I'm just seventy. Just seventy.
(Laughter.) But we came up there. A lot of veterans, they
had been--. A lot of them went to Korea. I don't know which
of them went, but a lot of them went to Korea and fought.
I didn't fight. I was just in there during the Korean Conflict.
Fifty-eight thousand folks were killed, but it was a conflict.
It wasn't a war. I was just in there, and there was a lot
of them did what I was doing, and more. I'm not a hero by
a long shot. I just believed in standing up for my rights.
Long: But it
was about as dangerous to register to vote, wasn't it?
dangerous. Because where I lived in Grenada was Eddie[?] Street,
and it turned around. They couldn't go by my house; they had
to turn around at my house, and a lot of nights I'd hear cars.
I could hear them because the driveway (inaudible) turned
around at my house. The police had to guard me one night.
Six of them was out there.
Long: And who
was it? Who do you think was out there?
Allen: A lot
of policemen I didn't trust.
And who was driving by?
Allen: I don't
know. I never would go to the window to look out. By the way,
the FBI came and said, "You're on the Klan's list." And I
didn't ever go to the window and part the window to see who
was turning around. I didn't know.
But they came and told you.
The FBI came and told me, "You're on the Klan's list."
what was that list? What would they have done?
if they told you you were on the Klan's list, you were in
danger. I don't know what. Probably death, like Vernon Dahmer
and the Philadelphia Three and a lot of-- Barry[?] in Grenada.
Barry was my cousin. A lot of people got killed in the Delta,
and they're trying some of them thirty and forty years after
Long: So, let's
talk about how, when freedom came, and you were in the school
system, how you got involved.
I'll tell you. I'm not going to (inaudible) it was embedded
in me and knowing the Constitution as I did and knowing something
of our rights, and everybody that was in the movement wasn't
like Dr. King. They'd tell folks to quit their (inaudible)
jobs. And I'd get right up in the church and say, "You'd better
keep your jobs. I can't take care of you." And I had a consultation
with them and on the city council and in the governor's office.
It's not black and white. It's right and wrong. Do right.
Tell the truth. Work. And a lot of those people would tell
those youngsters some wrong things. And me, and I started
going, try to keep them on the right track and try to, at
the same time, exercise their Constitutional rights.
It was wrong for me to have
to go to the back door to get a hamburger, and whites could
go to the front door. And a lot of those whites, all they
had to do to stay out of the Army was enroll in school. And
I tried to enroll in Jackson State, and it was war for me.
But at the same time, if I could have gone to Ole Miss at
that time, I'd probably have got killed, but if I had been
allowed to go, I wouldn't have gone in the Army. I'd have
got a deferment until after I finished school. And that is
why I fought as hard as I did. I wanted to right a wrong.
A lot of black people are so black they're mad. I guess I'm
mad, too, but I don't believe in doing folks wrong just because
your skin is different from mine. I believe in doing right.
And I served eight years on the city council and four years
in the governor's office and nobody can ever tell you--. That's
the reason I answered your question about important people's
children. Everybody was the same. And, in fact, one teacher
said, "Old Willie T. Allen treated us all just alike. Just
like dogs." (Laughter.) So, I'm not--. I've been accused of
Long: You were
I was impartial. And a lot of black people don't like it.
They don't like it if you're impartial because you come straight
down the middle. And one thing I always told them. You know
where I stand.
"Oh, I thought--."
"I thought nothing! What did
I tell you? That's where I am. That's where
I'm coming from. Whatever I told you. Doesn't matter what
you came up during the time, you mentioned at least four people
who were involved in social change.
was many of us. Ms. Annie Devine up at Canton[?]. Ms. Winson
Hudson over in Neshoba or Kemper County, somewhere back over
there. Charles and Medgar Evers, James Meredith. Oh, in Grenada,
it's any number of people.
Who would be important in Grenada to remember based on their
participation during those years?
you could talk to Jasper Neely. You could talk to Floyd Beauclair[?].
Long: Oh, Jasper
Long: OK. Jasper
Billy Joe[?] could tell you and Floyd Beauclair.
Long: And Mr.
McCain was there when you were there? Billy Joe McCain?
he was a little, old boy. I'm much older than Billy Joe. So,
Billy Joe was a little, old boy. He didn't have a--. No, he
wasn't there. He was still--. I guess he was in Cleveland.
He's been from Grenada a long time, but we always kept in
Long: He said
Dr. King and Abernathy stayed at his house when he was here.
they did. They sure did. His mother was living on Bell[?]
over near the school?
right in front of the old school. Colored school. Sure did.
Yeah. He still owns the house, over on Bell Street. I know
exactly where it is. Yeah.
Long: OK. Let
me just hear this, then. Let me hear how when freedom did
come to Grenada, can you name the different episodes of how?
Let's start where you want to start.
well, ask me a question and then I will start. I don't know
exactly where to start.
you got back from service, went to college and came back as
back as a teacher in 1956.
I registered to vote in fifty-seven.
Long: You voted
in fifty-seven. OK. Give me another one. We're doing a chronology.
What else can you think of? Going on up--.
Allen: At the,
somewhere, in the late fifties or early sixties, they wanted
to name a school after me, and the reply of one of the board
members, "That [is the] nigger down there trying to teach
them to register to vote."
I said, "Yeah. What's wrong
with that?" And they named the school after another person,
(inaudible.) And in fact, I went to the person and told them,
"I'm too young." Said, "You've given all your life in this
county for nothing." By the way, I was making $2000 a year.
And she probably wasn't making--. She had worked all her life,
and she probably didn't make $1000. But I was making $2000
for eight months.
Long: So, they
knew that you were a person who believed in the U.S. Constitution?
Allen: I don't
know. In Grenada--.
Long: Mr. Allen,
let's put this down. You were encouraging people to go down
Long: OK. Now,
how would you do that?
Allen: Go register
to vote? Simple. I wouldn't beat around the bush. Never did.
Go, register to vote. Stay in school. Learn all you can. That's
(inaudible) my message. And it still is my message. At the
museum, this coming summer--. I was in Grenada the other night,
and the reason I was so late, I was trying to set up a reading
program for this coming summer, for children. And I can probably
teach seventh- or eighth-grade math, but we need--. A lot
of children are flunking math and sciences and you have to
pass the ACT, and they need that kind of training to do that
complicated algebra and trigonometry and geometry. And some
of it I can teach; and some of it I can't. And that's still
my message. Go to school. Don't let your child watch television
all night. He needs some time to study. Read a book. Reading
is fundamental. If you can read, you can learn on your own,
some things. So, that's all I ever taught. That's what I'm
Long: OK. So,
then, you registered to vote yourself. Your wife registered
to vote. This was early on.
Allen: In the
fifties. Late fifties.
we moved to the sixties. What happened in the sixties?
hell broke loose. Especially when the black folks in Grenada,
sixty-six, is when everything happened. One of the Hollywood
stars--I'll call his name in a minute--came down and tried
to take people to school. And freedom of choice. And they
got beat half to death. And they went to the federal court
in Oxford. And I went up there every day, and the boy was
there. They wasn't kidding. Boy, he was just picking this
foot up real fast and putting it back down. He wasn't kidding.
And people pulled pistols on
the principal. Pulled pistols on people, and the principal
did some unkind things to black students that he hadn't been
doing. We had all kinds of problems.
talk about some of those. But let's see. You're saying that
at that time--. And you're talking about what time?
Allen: In the
late fifties. And we're talking about sixty-six right now.
sixty-six. Why was all of this pressure coming down in Grenada?
That's what I'm asking.
Meredith started a march against fear. I believe it was up
in Hernando County, somewhere up near Memphis. And he came
to Grenada and some people with the march was over asking
the superintendent to pitch a tent on Woodrow Wilson school
campus, and at the same time they were asking the other (inaudible)
putting a tent up, and they supposedly got mad about that.
But they were going to get mad about something, anyway. They
just didn't want the marchers there, and about a week after
the marchers left Grenada, they started arresting black folks.
"I heard you was in the march. I heard you was in the march."
And they came back and stayed there about two or three years.
And had meetings every night. Hosea[?], Leon[?], Cotton Reeder[?].
Dr. King came about three times. Ralph Abernathy[?]. J.T.
I don't know J.T.'s last name. You probably were in that.
I don't know, but that's what happened.
Long: I just
Long: Big Lester!
You know Big Lester?
He was there. Everybody was there. The Deacons of Defense.
I believe they were from Louisiana.
Somewhere down there.
was this in response to the Klan? Or to the situation? Or
Allen: It was
in response to everybody. The situation and the Klan. I don't
Long: The march
came through Grenada.
to Jackson. They had the big rally out at the capitol, and
then why did people come back to Grenada?
they had started arresting. That's why they came back to Grenada.
The local--. I don't know whether it was the NAACP, but a
lot of local folk asked them to come back. Said, "We're being
treated rough here. Y'all come back."
And what happened when they did come back? What kind of marches
did they do?
they marched for school. They marched for integration of theaters.
They marched for integration of public facilities, like cafes,
and those transits. Public transit at the time was not big
enough. They marched for everything.
Long: You mean
We tried to build a store, and they took the money.
That's amazing. And what was that about? Tell me about that.
said we were a secondary boycott trying to put a man out of
(Inaudible.) We had raised $31,000.
We had spent about half of it on the building; they took sixteen.
We still had sixteen left in the bank, and (inaudible) took
it all and tied the land up, and they sued folks that had
been dead for ten years, in Bellflower City[?]. Johnny and
Neely and Charlie Ladell[?] had been dead a whole long time.
Long: So, people
in Grenada were trying to build their own grocery store?
own grocery store.
and Sack? Or what?
and Sack. The man was named Gilbert. No, B and P. It was going
to be Black and Poor, but Pack and Sack, Gilbert Allen[?],
the nearest store to it--.
a minute, now. You said it was going to be Black and--?
B and P.
were going to name the store what?
Allen: B and
Long: For Black
Allen: I think
that's what it stood for. (Laughter.) But anyhow, it was B
the judge up there ordered us to pay $114,000, and they brought
it to the Supreme Court and said that was an excessive thing.
That $114,000 was too much, and they threw it out. But we
still had anything that any of those plaintiffs in the case
owned tied up for six or seven years.
So, the people who were in control of the situation in Grenada
got scared basically, and started--?
We couldn't hurt them. Economically, I guess we could, if
people had owned a store, they would have gone for the store,
but we weren't able to build it.
Long: So, why
was the establishment turning on the black people?
folks. Black folks weren't supposed to do anything but scratch
their head, and grin, and be glad to have what they had. That's
what had turned them. They still don't want you to do anything
worthwhile, but sell drugs and go to jail and pay fines. They
don't want you to do anything worthwhile. I'm preaching, "Stay
out of trouble. If you know selling dope is against the law,
then you quit selling dope." Just take a hold of them and
talk to them. Get black youngsters against[?] fast money.
And you talking about getting rich quick.
OK. Let's do this one thing. I want to focus on the demonstrations.
And we'll spend just a little time on this. You can just tell
it as a story. You can go ahead and tell me what--.
(End of tape one, side two.
The interview continues on tape two, side one.)
can go ahead and tell me what] was happening when people decided
to come back from Jackson and start these demonstrations.
Tell me where they happened. Just describe the situation.
came back from Jackson, and demonstrated all over.
Leon Hall[?], R.B. Cotton Reeder, and Hosea Williams[?]. But
Abernathy and Leon Hall, R.B. Cotton Reeder, Hosea Williams,
Big Lester and somebody named J.T. It was five, or six, or
seven. Maybe ten of them. I don't know, but I remember the
Deacons for Defense was there. SCLC, NAACP had kind of a back-seat
role. SCLC was the leader. And Cotton Reeder and Hosea and
Leon were working for themselves. See, and they demonstrated
about everything. Everything that was wrong, from the movie
theaters that were segregated. The one uptown is torn down,
now. Uptown Grenada. Most of Grenada is out on Highway 8,
now, but at that time it was downtown. And I ran for city
council in 1972. It's a division of Grenada called Pine Hill,
I wanted in the city limits there, and got all around within
the city limits, and this Pine Hill was the place I grew up.
I wanted it in the city limits. And Holiday Inn, way out there
next to [Highway] 55 wanted to come in and Pine Hill is way
back over there close to the town. And they hadn't come in
there. And I didn't have any objections to Holiday Inn coming
in. They needed water so they could get better insurance rates,
and I wanted them. But I just asked, "Why haven't you taken
Pine Hill in? I'll vote for Holiday Inn when you vote for
Pine Hill." And I was the only one, and they could all vote
them in, but they didn't want to. I had uncovered something.
Now, can you centralize your focus on the Confederate monument
downtown? Did you hear about or did you--?
Davis, monument in the square?
me about that particular incident.
Allen: I don't
know when it was put there, but I know it was there. Well,
one night there was a great march and the highway patrolman
said, "There was a mile of niggers back there." So--.
Long: The highway
patrol said there was what?
Allen: "A mile
Long: A mile
Allen: I don't
know how many there is, but it's a mile of niggers back behind
me. (Laughter.) See, they was guarding. The FBI and a lot
of other people. Some do-gooders, from everywhere was there,
and they didn't mean us a whole lot of good. I had one stay
at my house. So, they opened the courthouse up at night and
let us register to vote. One night, just about, the square,
(inaudible) statues in the square and Leon or Cotton Reeder
or somebody (inaudible.) The next night they had a big ring
of black men around it. Every one of them was taken from Parchment,
and, oh! Jesse Jackson was one of the ones that came in there,
too. Yes. Yes, sir. Jesse's been in Grenada. Marian Wright,
one of the first black--.
Marian Wright Edelman was one of the first black lawyers I
saw. And one of the white businessmen came out of the courthouse
one day and says, "That Negro girl up there talking," says,
"white lawyers here can't hold a candle to her." Says, "That
Negro girl knows the law." And he was talking about Marian
So, they had these demonstrations to dramatize what issue?
had the demonstrations to dramatize injustice, and every segment
of life was segregated in justice. We couldn't get jobs. We
didn't get pay. And when Gladys Noel Bates sued the state
of Mississippi, I was living with her mama over on Pearl Street.
Gladys and her husband was in Denver the last time I heard
from them. I don't know where they are now, or whether they
are still living or dead.
Long: And what
did she sue the state for? Equalization of pay?
of pay, black and white teachers. Mm-hm.
Long: And what
was the outcome?
won, but she lost her job.
Long: Let me
hear that again.
won the suit, but she lost her job. Nobody in Mississippi
would hire her, so she went to Colorado.
Long: Hm. Isn't
if you decided that you wanted to get an NAACP card, and you
were a teacher?
you got fired. You kept it a secret if you joined the NAACP.
In fact, when I was in college we used to have social science
forums. One was held at Millsaps. One was held at Tougaloo.
One was held at Rust. You notice that I didn't say Alcorn,
Jackson State. You noticed that Mississippi State?
Long: I noticed
you didn't say that.
private schools. And let me tell you, if they found out they
went to one of those social science forums, you got fired.
And the way they knew, used to, to get a job as a teacher,
you had to write the five organizations you belonged to and
five organizations you made contributions to, and I would
fill up my page with Sunday school, church, and harmless organizations,
and then didn't have any more room.
that pretty well--. Well, the teachers' meeting, Mississippi
Teachers' Association and other teachers' organization that
was the white organization. They didn't budge. They came to
Jackson at the same time, but the black teachers met over
at Jackson State. I don't know where the white folks met.
Mm-hm. OK. So, now, you've described situations that relate
to education and educators in the state. What else? You were
saying folks were marching against equality. What else can
you think of?
Equality. Riding on the bus, and when I was in the Army, there
was a curtain. As long as white folks got on, they could go
all the way to the back. You had to move that curtain. It
was leather or rubber or something. It wasn't an iron curtain.
But it was a curtain on the bus. So, Fort Benning, Georgia,
is on Highway 80, about 400 miles due east of here. And you
can get on one bus at Columbus, Georgia, and come on to Jackson,
Mississippi. And you get on the bus from Columbus, Georgia
to Winona, Mississippi, and then I'd get off (inaudible) highway
and thumb, but I'd be in Grenada by the time my bus got there.
My bus got there at eight and the bus got to Winona at six.
That's twenty miles, and at that time, if you had a uniform,
people would pick you up, but they were marching against the
seating arrangement on the bus. Train. I don't know. I didn't
fly. I'd never flown, then, until much later. I don't know
where they'd put black folks on an airplane. I guess I never
did know anybody who flew. They either went on the car. They
were marching the cafes, theaters. You name it.
So, if I were driving through Grenada and I was doing interstate
commerce, coming from Georgia or from Memphis, and my wife
wanted to go to the bathroom, where would she go?
the bathrooms they had: men, women, and colored. She'd go
in the colored bathroom, if they had one.
And if they didn't have one?
Allen: If they
didn't have one--. I used to have the thing: "Where is your
"OK. Fill my car up with gas."
All the service stations then were attended. You didn't put
your gas in yourself.
"Fill my car up with gas."
[But if they said,] "I don't
"OK. Thank you, sir." Drive
off. So, that's the way (inaudible) to stop. (Inaudible) way
to stop in the road.
they were demonstrating against everything. All the (inaudible)
activities in the schools and federal money and anything else
that came in. We didn't get any of it. I told you we had hand-me-down
(inaudible.) We did have new books. We did have new books,
but everything else was used. And I used to say, I guess I
was (inaudible) because we had new books. I said, "The black
schools didn't get anything new but coal. And they couldn't
figure out a way how to burn the coal and give it to us secondhand.
So, all the coal we got." (Laughter.) We didn't have the steam
heat that they have now. Central. You had to fire old pot-bellied
heaters with that coal. In the country, the trustees of the
school brought the wood. In town, we had a coal house and
I said, "The only thing we got that wasn't used was coal.
And they haven't figured out how to burn that and then give
it to you."
So, that's why people were marching.
was men and women?
Men, women, and young folks. Folks my age, walking on a stick
couldn't march, but it was a lot of old folks that marched,
but basically it was young people.
Now, what about if school was going on? How--?
they marched with folks that weren't in school, but when school
was out, there was a lot of children. I went to school. When
I was a teacher, I went to school every day. Seven fifteen
I was standing out there, and I stayed there till four o'clock,
but after four o'clock, I always let them know, this happens
after. My First Amendment rights give the me the right to
assemble anywhere I want to assemble. I told the superintendent,
and these are the words: "If the board don't want me to march,
they can put it in writing (inaudible)." They wouldn't. They
never did tell me to put it in writing.
So, you pretty much were standing up for your rights even
though you were in a kind of--?
Allen: I was
a principal of a school, and I told my niece the other day,
I said, "Not many black teachers hired, but at the time you
were hired, I hired you." And especially, since she's from
Alcorn, and I'm from Jackson State. And we don't like one
another. It's usually during football season, that we are
big rivals. I said, I pulled for McNair[?], and I hired her.
And I used to pull for--. And when Jackson State didn't beat
Alcorn or McNair, (inaudible.)
But the rights of folks are
more important than anything I know. And that's what I was
setting up for. If you don't get an education, you're lost
anyhow. You're going to be (inaudible.) The black folks are
going to turn against you, if you don't know what you're doing.
We got a majority council, four out of seven, in Grenada now.
And in Jackson, I think it's four out of seven or six or something.
They care more about how they're going to do it and how they're
going to do than we did. We didn't try to make a name. We
just tried to do right. I served on the council eight years,
and I believe I could have been serving now, but the one they
got now, don't stand up for right and wrong. It's not black
or white. Right or wrong.
Long: OK. Let's
Long: And I
want to thank you for giving me this time, and I want you
to know that this is one of the tapes that will go into the
museum. You said you wanted it for the museum.
Yes, I do.
Long: OK. And
this is the general tape, and I recommend that we do a follow
up tape. They'll go ahead and process this tape, but I do
recommend that we do a follow up because you've got so much
history. Did you feel that that helped you in what you may
want to read in your library? What else would you include?
Allen: I need
pictures. In fact, what I have in the A.B.J.W. Museum, which
is at 308 Martin Luther King Boulevard in Grenada, Mississippi,
[are] artifacts. Old washing machines, old tools, old--. Now,
pictures can be of anything. I just have finished a board
of people who served, rank, name, branch of service, and the
year you served. Thank you. I got another board over there
of those who lost their lives in war. Thank you. And I got
pictures, and I see the Rebel flag up there in the corner
(laughter), and I got all of the--. Not all of them, but some
of them from forty-five to eighty of the colored high school,
when the people finished there. I got pictures of the principals
and pictures of people and pictures of important people because
you've got a history museum.
Long: And I
hope this will be helpful to it, and I will try to think of
other things that may be helpful to you, but I think I may
want to go up and talk with your protege Mr. Neely and interview
him about that same thing.
He's in the building. He can give you a whole lot. On 308
Martin Luther King. I still say, "Commerce"; 308
Martin Luther King. It's old Highway 51. You won't forget
that. Maybe not. We won't forget Martin Luther King, either.
But anyhow, it's on the outside in big letters.
Long: OK. That's
fine. Thank you, again.
(End of the interview.)