An Oral History

With

Walter Bruce













Interviewer: Harriet Tanzman













Tougaloo College Archives























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

Funding for this project was provided in part by the Mississippi

Humanities Council, the National Endowment for the Humanities, and

the Mississippi Department of Archives and History.



1999

Biography



Mr. Walter Bruce was born on May 30, 1928, in Durant, Mississippi, in Holmes County. His mother was Georgia Powell Bruce, and his father was Walter Bruce Sr. During Mr. Bruce's childhood, his family sharecropped on a plantation. Mr. Bruce was in the Army for two years. As a civilian, his profession has been and still is carpentry.



In early 1964, Mr. Bruce became a civil rights advocate, joining in at the Second Pilgrim Rest community, eventually becoming the chair of the Holmes County Freedom Democratic Party. For the past forty-one years, Mr. Bruce has been performing with the gospel group, the Soul Travelers. For the past thirty-something years, Mr. Bruce has been on the MACE (Mississippi Action for Community Education) board.

Table of Contents



Childhood 1

Education 2

Freedom Democratic Party 4

Mary Lee Hightower lawsuit 5

FDP weekly meetings 7

School integration 7

Defense against armed attacks 8

Head Start 10

Selective buying and arrest 12

Piggly-Wiggly and Family Dollar Store in Durant 14

Voting issues and endorsing candidates 15

Robert Clark's candidacy for state legislature 18

The FDP and youth 24

Durant school board 29



AN ORAL HISTORY



with



WALTER BRUCE



This is an interview for the Civil Rights Documentation Project. The interview is with Walter Bruce and is taking place on October 8, 1999. The interviewer is Harriet Tanzman.



Tanzman: This is Harriet Tanzman recording for The University of Southern Mississippi Oral History Project and Tougaloo, and we are speaking to Mr. Walter Bruce in Durant, Mississippi, Chairman of the Holmes County Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party. Good morning, Mr. Bruce.



Bruce: OK. How you doing?



Tanzman: OK. Mr. Bruce, can you tell me when and where you were born? And who your parents were?



Bruce: Yeah, I was born here in Holmes County, in 1928, May 30.



Tanzman: Durant?



Bruce: Mm-hm. Durant, yeah.



Tanzman: And who were your parents and your brothers and sisters?



Bruce: My mother's name was Georgia Bruce; she was a Powell[?] before she married. My daddy was Walter Bruce Sr. There were about thirteen of us in all, but right now it's only two brothers living, and, let's see, about three sisters.



Tanzman: Were you the oldest, youngest?



Bruce: No, there was four sisters. And I'm the youngest one of them. (Laughter.) Yeah.



Tanzman: OK. And, what kind of work were they doing?



Bruce: Just mostly housewife, and so forth, and maybe doing a little picking cotton and stuff like that, back there, then. No jobs.



Tanzman: Your father worked for other people out in the county, from Durant?



Bruce: He just farmed a little bit. That's it. Sharecropper, you call it.



Tanzman: So, you grew up on a plantation?



Bruce: Yeah. Uh-huh. Plantation.



Tanzman: Where was that?



Bruce: That was out--. It's in Holmes County, but the community we was in, they called it the Rolling Wall[?] community. That's about six miles north of Durant.



Tanzman: And did he ever get to own land or anything? Own his own land?



Bruce: No, he never owned his own land. No, we just stayed out there on somebody else's place.



Tanzman: Where did you go to school?



Bruce: I went to the little Rolling Wall school. I finished out there and then I went to Lexington and stayed with my sister, and that's where I finished high school, in Lexington, at the Ambrow[?] High School, at that time.



Tanzman: Mm-hm. There was no high school out where you were?



Bruce: Ahn-ahn. It didn't go no higher than the eighth grade.



Tanzman: Was the school open all the year round?



Bruce: Mm-mm. It was about like it is now. You know, just during the summer months, mostly. It always closed down something like May.



Tanzman: Did it close for the times of cotton picking and chopping?



Bruce: No, it stayed open during the cotton picking season. Yeah.



Tanzman: And when did you move to Durant and start your own--?



Bruce: Oh, I've been here, probably--. I've been in Durant probably twenty-something years, now. I don't know the exact number because after I finished school, then I went in the Army and stayed two years. Then we came back, and then after that, then I got married, and then we moved down here to Durant, and been in Durant ever since.



Tanzman: And how did you get started in fixing the houses? The contracting?



Bruce: Well, it was just a gift from God, I guess. My daddy, he used to do a little of it. And I just started to piddling around, making different things, and ended up being a carpenter.



Tanzman: Did that mean that during the movement, did you face reprisals at all, during the movement, in terms of jobs? Or were you able to keep going?



Bruce: I was able to keep going pretty good after they kind of knew my reputation of what I stood for. I was thinking that when I got involved in the civil rights movement that I probably wouldn't be able to work with too many white people, but somewhere down the line, I don't know why they was afraid if they didn't hire me, maybe that we would boycott them or something like that. (Laughter.) So, I stayed pretty busy, and I never lost any jobs, I don't think, because of my activities in the civil rights. So, I did about as much work with white folks as I did my own race.



Tanzman: So, that wasn't a reprisal.



Bruce: Uh-uh.



Tanzman: How did you first get involved and when did you try to register or become involved in the civil rights movement?



Bruce: Well, not when it first began. I didn't, as I said, because I was self-employed and I was kind of skeptical about it, but then I just had to think about it. And then when I made up my mind that that's what I was going to do, and then we went over there and we didn't have too many problems, but mostly, at that time, we had what you called the federal registrars in here, and most of us registered down in the basement at the post office, because we had a problem with the circuit clerk.



Tanzman: So you got involved in like the midsixties? In like sixty-five, when the Voting Rights Bill had passed?



Bruce: I kind of connected in sixty-four. Yeah. Early sixty-four.



Tanzman: Mm-hm. And that was when the clerk was still giving people trouble?



Bruce: Mm-hm, yeah. He was talking about poll tax. When we filed that suit, you know, and got all that knocked out, and so, you didn't have to buy no poll tax to be able to register.



Tanzman: Who filed the lawsuit against the poll tax?



Bruce: The Freedom Democratic Party.



Tanzman: Uh-huh. And that was in what year, about?



Bruce: About, in early sixty-four and sixty-five. Mm-hm.



Tanzman: And when you were beginning to get involved, was there a group in Durant itself or was it at Second Pilgrim Rest or this whole part of the county?



Bruce: Yeah, up in the Old Pilgrim Rest community, where (inaudible), Johnny B. Nauhs[?], Jodie Saffold[?], they had kind of gotten started off. That was the first community that the civil rights movement kind of got started. In its beginning, it was in the Mileston community. And they had that center down there, and then they started meeting in Durant, but they were meeting out at Second Pilgrim Rest, and they just kept on at me. And so, then I joined up in Second Pilgrim Rest community, and then it wasn't too long before I had been made chairman.



Tanzman: When was that?



Bruce: That was out at Second Pilgrim Rest community, about three miles north of Durant.



Tanzman: Was that an all-black farming community?



Bruce: Yeah, almost all blacks that lived out [there]. Not no whites too close around.



Tanzman: Were people going there from the town of Durant, too? From the city?



Bruce: The city of Durant, and, well, there were more people from Durant than there were from the community, because wasn't a whole lot of people living out in that community. Most of all of us lived here in Durant, and we'd go out every Wednesday night. That's when we would meet on Wednesday night.



Tanzman: And you became chairman in, what was it, sixty-six?



Bruce: Yeah, something like that. Sixty-six. Yeah.



Tanzman: Of this area?



Bruce: Mm-hm.



Tanzman: Could you describe the climate? I remember, I came in sixty-six, and there was a lot of fear. How would you describe the way people looked at civil rights in the community here by the midsixties? Were there many people afraid of losing jobs, or violence? Or, what was it like here?



Bruce: Well, we had a problem that our professionals, the teachers and so forth, they was really afraid to get into it on account of they thought that they might lose their jobs, and a few of the people that was working in the factories, they was kind of skeptical. But we didn't have too many people working that really had a job that they had to be afraid of, you know, just like, working in homes, picking cotton, and all like that. But you had some people just afraid, period. Think they're going to get their house bombed, or burned up, or something like that, and it was kind of hard to get a whole lot of them involved in it. But as time moved along, we steady increased it, and got them involved in it.



Tanzman: Did people lose jobs if they worked in people's homes, like cleaning?



Bruce: Not too many. We never did have any complaints about anybody, because at that time, wasn't too many, you know, even working in no homes. They just maybe picking cotton and doing things like that, but at the time it was, Durant, I think, it was something like a chenille[?] factory, and making stockings and things, and I know they had problems down there because Ms. Hightower was working down there, and so she filed that suit, and we won that. And so that put more people in that factory down there. She was the first black to file a suit under that condition.



Tanzman: What happened? When did she start working there?



Bruce: Oh, it was in the sixties.



Tanzman: Beginning?



Bruce: Uh-huh. Yeah.



Tanzman: And her lawsuit was to open up the hiring, or what was--?



Bruce: Yeah, wasn't nothing in there but white. Mm-hm. It was something like discrimination against blacks. They would pretend they never had an opening until she filed that suit, and that opened it up.



Tanzman: And that's Mary Lee Hightower?



Bruce: Yeah.



Tanzman: H-I-G-H-T-O-W-E-R.



Bruce: Yeah.



Tanzman: So, more people got hired?



Bruce: Oh, sure.



Tanzman: Did they face a lot of harassment in the factory?



Bruce: No, after that happened, it kind of quieted down. Sure did. Mm-hm.



Tanzman: What about the other plants? Weren't there a zipper and a--?



Bruce: That was the zipper plant.



Tanzman: Oh, that was the zipper. Uh-huh.



Bruce: Yeah. Uh-huh. The rest of them had, you know, when they come on the scene, they was kind of, already, you know, kind of broke in, but the zipper plant down (inaudible) was about the onliest one that we had here at that time.



Tanzman: Was the only factory that came? So, the ones that came in later, like the sportswear and the--?



Bruce: We didn't have any problem out of those.



Tanzman: Oh, OK. They hired.



Bruce: Yeah.



Tanzman: Yeah. Mary Lee was quite young then, wasn't she?



Bruce: Yeah, she was. (Laughter.) But she had that nerve, though.



Tanzman: Right. OK. When you started having meetings, was this part of a county-wide movement? Did you have county-wide meetings and then meetings in different beats? How did it work?



Bruce: Yeah, well, it was maybe two or three more chairman before I became the chairman of the Holmes County. I believe Reverend Russum[?] might have been the first chairperson of the county, and I believe Reverend Russum or Mr. Hays[?], and then Howard Bailey[?] was the last one, and I came under Howard Bailey, and at that time, they made me what you call the coordinator, and I had to go to every community in Holmes County and try to get a meeting set up. And I did that for maybe like six or seven months, and I had to go around every night to get around to all the communities, and when I finished that, we had something like about seventeen or eighteen communities had started having meetings. And most of us had them on different nights.



Tanzman: These were weekly meetings?



Bruce: Yeah. At that time it was.



Tanzman: Did they contribute to the FDP office?



Bruce: Yeah, that's what I was getting everybody set up for in each community. We'd get them set up and they'd get their chairman, their (inaudible) advice, and executive board members and then every third Sunday, all of those communities would meet to the county-wide and each one would bring us up to date on what they were doing in their community. Every community had a night that they'd meet. Just like West, they most always met on Monday night, and Tuesday night. We always met on Wednesday night; some on Thursday night, and Friday nights.



Tanzman: Mm-hm. So, you were a very organized county.



Bruce: Very organized, yeah, at that time, we really were.



Tanzman: What were some of the key issues? What happened, for example, around the school integration issue? Was that something FDP took up a lot?



Bruce: Yeah, now Ms. Saffold and them, they was kind of active, then, I believe. Her and a few more was the first ones that sent their kids to the all-what-used-to-be-white school. And it started from there, and then it just steady went to increasing.



Tanzman: Is that Hattie Saffold from Second Pilgrim Rest?



Bruce: Yeah. Her and her husband were very active in it.



Tanzman: What was the response of the schools? I mean, what was the response in the community? Was there any violence or any negative response towards the families?



Bruce: Not really, you know. I mean, you know how it was at that time. You really wasn't welcome, but it wasn't too much that they could really say, because they knew Holmes County always had been something like 70 percent black, and they knew that we could control the county, you know, if we would come together, and so we didn't have no whole lot of problems. It wasn't too long before, you know, so many people went to sending them, and then that's when they, a whole lot of them pulled out, and you know, went to the private school in West.



Tanzman: A lot of the white people.



Bruce: Yeah, a lot of the white people. And so they still got a private school, but a whole lot of them have came back, and I guess some are still going, but we never really had no major problems.



Tanzman: What happened around Riley's Store when people were registering for the school integration? Weren't they going over to the grocery of Mr. Riley?



Bruce: Yeah, they was going over there. Now, we had, you know, quite a few problems, because you take when we, at that time, we were meeting on a Wednesday night at Second Pilgrim Rest and a whole lot of time, I don't know whether they were Ku Klux or not, but anyway, white people would always come out through there about the time that they figured we were going to get the meeting started, and they never did shoot in the building, but they was coming in and shooting over it. You know. Trying to scare people, and then they would come by and shoot over the building and go on around and come back to town. So, they was doing that just about every Wednesday night, until we kind of used some strategy of what we was going to do. And then from that day on, we never had no more problems. (Laughter.)



Tanzman: What was your strategy?



Bruce: Well, our strategy was we always did carry our weapons out there, and so at that time we decided we were going to get a group of men to get on the side where they was to come in at, and then we had another group on the other side the way, when they shoot, they would keep on down that way. And so, when they came over that Wednesday night and started to shooting, and when they got down there about half a mile, then our people opened fire on them. And so, they turned around, then, and come back that a-way. And when they come back that a-way, the people on that side started shooting over they heads. (Laughter.) And [when they] got in town, said, "We not going to go back out there no more." Said, "Them niggers got all kinds of out there." (Laughter.) And so they was always coming back to this Sixty-six service station, and that's where they would meet at, and that word got out, and so from then on we never had no more problems when we'd go out there [with] nobody coming by shooting no more. So that broke that up.



Tanzman: So, it was arming yourselves did it--. (Laughter.)



Bruce: Yeah. We solved that problem ourselves.



Tanzman: What was the situation at Riley's Store that happened before I was here? I think kids were registering there for the school, or--?



Bruce: Yeah, well, Hooker[?], he was a strong supporter of the civil rights movement at that time, and so, when people, you know, was getting ready to go up to school, a whole lot of them would meet out there at their little grocery store, and that's where they would leave from, there, and go up to the school. Well, they played a big part in the civil rights movement and especially in the integration of the school.



Tanzman: Did they have any reprisals at the store?



Bruce: Well, they just had a little, small community grocery store.



Tanzman: No, I mean, did the whites do anything to the store?



Bruce: No, they might have, you know, threatened them a time or two, but they didn't really do no burning or anything like that. It never was burned up or anything like that.



Tanzman: Mm-hm. So, they were very strong in the movement. Hooker Riley and his wife.



Bruce: Well, he was real strong. His wife, you know, she had to be, you know--. She wasn't that strong, but she didn't object, because, see, they was together, but he the one, you know, done most of the leg work.



Tanzman: Was your daughter one of the kids, or was she too young for school then?



Bruce: No, she was too young, then. Mm-hm. Yeah.



Tanzman: Where did she go to school?



Bruce: Well, she went a while, when she got up big enough, down to Williams and Southern[?], and then she finished up there and then she went on to Delta State. Mm-hm. Yeah.



Tanzman: And in the classrooms, there wasn't a lot of problems? When the kids came in, the black kids, did the white kids leave right away? Or was it both?



Bruce: No, some of them was pulled out after they found out, you know, that the black kids was going to go to school in there. Some of them never did leave. But the majority of them left, and then, as I said, as time moved on, and they found out that private school was expensive, a whole lot of them came back. But right now, you know, you've still got quite a few of them going there. Onliest private school we have is here. There's one in West, and in Lexington down there around (inaudible). Because people from Attala County, they comes over; they goes to West.



Tanzman: So, it is interracial in the schools. What about the teachers?



Bruce: No black teacher is in any private school that I'm aware of.



Tanzman: I mean, in the public schools.



Bruce: Oh, we've got a few white teachers. Had a few white students, but I don't know why we have any or not, but now we've got quite a few black teachers up here in Durant public schools, black and white, and down at (inaudible) Pickens[?], it's a few whites down there. It might be some in all the schools, but not no whole lot of children or teachers, but we do have some white teachers in the black schools.



Tanzman: Has the condition of the schools been one of the issues FDP has been involved in over the years?



Bruce: Well, at that time, whatever come up, we was involved in it. We had school problems, police brutality, endorsing candidates, not endorsing candidates, anything that came up, we was involved in.



Tanzman: What about the Head Start? How did the FDP, in the early beginnings of Head Start, and the county come together?



Bruce: Yeah, well, most of the people that were working in the Head Start was members of the Freedom Democratic Party. Like Ms. Barnes[?], Ms. Saffold, Berniece[?], Ms. Moore[?], and all them. Daisy Lewis[?]. We always was connected up into the Head Start and they would mostly come to the county-wide meeting on third Sunday. So, we always have been, you know, kind of close connected.



Tanzman: Very close. During the times that Child Development Group of Mississippi and the early Head Start was not funded, and then funded, and went through a lot of problems around that, were Head Start and Freedom Democratic Party working together about the funding part?



Bruce: Yeah. Uh-huh. At that time, you know, the funds were very scarce, and sometimes they'd tell you, going to run out, and so, whatever they would come up with, you know, they would bring it to the county-wide, and we, you know, supported them whichever way we could. Yeah.



Tanzman: You mentioned about the police violence. I mean, I was only here in sixty-six. It was a lot happened after that, county-wide, wasn't there, when you and Mary Lee Hightower worked full-time?



Bruce: Yeah, that was the time when J. Young[?] was--. They arrested him. But anyway--.



Tanzman: Who was he?



Bruce: J. Young, he was from Long Branch. He was one of our executive board members at that time, and they locked him up that night, but he was sickly anyway. And my understanding is that, they wouldn't give him his medicine, but anyway--. And they wouldn't let him out. And so, that morning, sometime, he had passed away in jail, and so that brought up a whole lot of investigating and things. And so, we, I think, me and Ms. Hightower may were the ones that went over there that morning, and I think they had taken him out the jail and carried him down to the funeral home. And at that time, Calvin Moore was the sheriff, and we told him we'd like to go down there and look at him. We were thinking, you know, he might have got beat up or something like that. And he told us that we couldn't go.



And I told him, I said, "Well, it's going to be better for you if we do go." I said, "Because if we don't go," I said, "there's going to be a whole lot of problems in the county, if we don't be able to see him." And so, they finally agreed to let us go in there. They hadn't ever dressed him or anything. And so, we just examined him over and over. And so, he wasn't beat up or anything like that. No scars, or anything. So, it could have been lacking of taking his medicine, or it could have excited him and he had a heart attack or something like that, but he was not beat up because we examined him ourselves.



Tanzman: Mm-hm. And what did that lead to? Protests?



Bruce: Well, we put a suit in against them, but we lost the suit because we had some black inmate that they had got in with and maybe made a deal with him, and they wouldn't let him testify in our behalf of what happened to him. They was mostly leaning against Calvin Moore and Howard Huggins. He was the black deputy sheriff and Calvin Moore was the sheriff.



Tanzman: White?



Bruce: Yeah, Calvin Moore was white and Howard Huggins was black. But we lost that case. But that was the only reason because some of the inmates, you know, they'd tell them if they'd do this, they'd do that, they'd probably have to stay there so long, and they got two or three of them on their side.



Tanzman: Mm-hm. Was that leading to a boycott or protest? When was this? When did this happen?



Bruce: Oh, I'd have to look on some--.



Tanzman: Seventies?



Bruce: Yeah.



Tanzman: Midseventies?



Bruce: Mm-hm. Yeah, we put on a selective buying, then, and--.



Tanzman: In what town?



Bruce: Lexington. And that's the only time I ever got locked up in my life. (Laughter.)



Tanzman: What happened?



Bruce: We put on this selective buying and it was real effective for a long time, and then it was late one afternoon and we had heard that they had locked up some of the people that was protesting. I had came back to Durant and I think Ms. Clark came by. At that time we had what you called a community pride store up there, and I was up in there. And I think she's the one that come in and told me that they had arrested Mary Lee and Sam and a few more. And by the time I got ready to go to check on them, about that time, Howard Huggins and Calvin Moore was coming in with a warrant for my arrest. (Laughter.) And so they put me in the car. And so we were on our way to Lexington, and I asked him what did they have me for. And he said, "We heard that you the one was hauling the people from one place to the other one."



And I said, "Yeah, I was." And I told him, I said, "Well, you must don't know who that damn truck belongs to." I said, "I bought that truck." I said, "I can haul whoever I want to." At that time, (inaudible) Brown's store was over across the bridge down there and so she put in a whole lot of complaining. They locked up, I think, it was about thirteen of us, and so, then some peoples came over from Louisiana.



Tanzman: What did they charge you with?



Bruce: At that time, anything that they said, you know, would go. And then they had, you know, under the justice court judge, you know, and everybody that was arrested then, you went to the justice court, and you automatically guilty. (Laughter.) And so, they came over to get me out, but I told them I wasn't going to get out till the rest of them get out. We all going to get out together; either, we just all stay on in there. And so, Mr. Bailey, (inaudible), and Johnny B., all of them came over and, Boyd Thurman[?], he was living at that time, and so I think Boyd Thurman was the one put up the bail, and they was asking did he have enough problems. He told them he had enough problems and enough money to burn everybody in Holmes County. (Laughter.) And, but we had to end up going all the way to Jackson before that thing was throwed out.



Tanzman: You mean, they had to appeal it to a higher court?



Bruce: Yeah, well, you know if you go to justice court you going to automatically be guilty. But we had to go to the federal court down, up over the post office in Jackson. That's where we finally won the case.



Tanzman: Were the people arrested from all different parts of the county or were they from here in Durant?



Bruce: Yeah, I would have to look on that list. I know it was me, Ms. Hightower, Sam, Rudy Shields--he was here helping in the movement from out of Yazoo City, one of Shadrack Davis'[?] sons, T.C. Johnson's[?] son, and Reverend Robson[?]. They arrested him, but I don't think he never came to jail. And Eddie James Carson[?]. I would have to look.



Tanzman: So, it was from Tchula, Mileston, and Durant.



Bruce: It was. Yeah. Tchula, Mileston, Lexington, Durant. I don't think anyone was from West that got locked up, but most of them was around the Delta area and in Lexington and Durant.



Tanzman: And what happened as a result of the boycott? What was your goal in the boycott?



Bruce: Well, at that time, too, they didn't have no blacks in the stores and things, so we lost the lawsuit, but we got people placed in those stores and in banks and things like that. We just added all that to it, once we had to put it on.



Tanzman: Oh, so it was around police violence as well as jobs. Yeah. Did they change their practices at all, the police?



Bruce: Yeah. Every once in a while we had to, you know, (inaudible), but we hadn't really had no major problems out of the police. Sometimes they do things, you know, we might go to the board or something on them, but not no really major problems.



Tanzman: Did you have more than one boycott? Was there other boycotts about the same issues?



Bruce: No, that's the only one we had on that issue. We have had, you know, some in just about every town, like Pickens[?] and so forth. And we had one in Durant, but that was concerning a Piggly-Wiggly Store. That's the onliest one I really, that I had in Durant, was concerning an incident that happened up at Piggly-Wiggly.



Tanzman: This was not about hiring? What was it?



Bruce: No, they had blacks up there, but this time they had a white assistant manager, and I don't know really what happened. I think it was on a Sunday, because they stayed open till like six o'clock, but this black boy that was working there, him and the white manager got into it, and when the manager came that Monday, instead of him sending them both home, he sent the black home and kept the white. And so, what I'm saying, he fired the black, but the white came back. And then when we got aware of it, I called a meeting at the center and told them what was going on, and so then, we got a firm[?] and a letter and got it together. And I certified and mailed it to him, and give him ten days to respond.



Tanzman: What were you asking him?



Bruce: To either fire the white or either hire the black back. And so, we sent the letter and the ten days was up and they hadn't responded back. So then I called another meeting, and then we went on and suggested that we were going to boycott Piggly-Wiggly and Family Dollar Store because they didn't have too many blacks working in there, either. And so, we concluded both of them together. And it was going on into the third week, talking about I was getting ready to go to the car, "Leg's go to bond somebody out of jail." And I got a call from Piggly-Wiggly Store, and that was Danny's wife and she told me that they had got rid of the white fellow. And I told her, I said, "Well, it's just like I told you in the first." I said, "I still have to have a letter." I said, "I don't go back to no meeting and tell them what you tell me." I say, "You get me a letter and I'll take that, call a meeting and go back, and then we will have the letter read at the meeting." And so in a few days, I got the letter, and so we called another meeting and we went out, and as I said, we were really meeting then. And so, we had the letter read, and then we decided that we would go up and lift the selective buying.



And then some of them said that, "Well, I don't think that we should lift it right now," say, "because my understanding they going to take him to the Piggly-Wiggly Store in Lexington."



And I told them, I said, "I don't care if they give him a job next door." I said, "All we asked for him to be moved out of Piggly-Wiggly." I said, "We're not going to follow nobody all over the county, trying to keep him from getting hired." I said, "The only thing we asked them to get him out of the Piggly-Wiggly in Durant." I said, "They carry him to Lexington or move him next door from Piggly-Wiggly." I said, "We done got what we asked for." And so, we lifted it and then me and two or three more, we went up to Piggly-Wiggly that next day, and we sit down and talked and I asked him, you know, had he ever considered when he hired these people, black or white, would he mind asking them, you know, would they be able to work together. Could black work with white or white with black.



And he said, "I hadn't thought of it like that." And so, we got all that ironed out, and right now he is one of my radio sponsors on WXTN, every Sunday morning.



Tanzman: Piggly-Wiggly.



Bruce: Piggly-Wiggly.



Tanzman: What is the program that you have?



Bruce: My singing program. We broadcast fifteen minutes every Sunday morning, and he is one of our sponsors.



Tanzman: You brought him along.



Bruce: Yeah, and so we can go up there. We have something for the county or raising money or just like we have sometime, something like once a year, county-wide and whatever we--. If we want a case of chicken or ribs, whatever we're going to cook, they'll always donate us a case of whatever we going--. And so, we all work together real good.



Tanzman: It sounds like you've really brought them around.



Bruce: Yeah, we did. Yeah.



Tanzman: What were some of the voting issues that people worked on? You said you've been endorsing candidates. Was FDP involved when, for example, Eddie Carthen[?] was running for mayor down in Tchula in what was that, seventy-seven?



Bruce: Yeah, uh-huh. Yeah, when he got elected, he was a strong FDP man, when he got elected, yeah. Yeah, they the ones, really, got him in there.



Tanzman: And, as I remember, they kind of declared war on his mayorship. Could you tell us about that?



Bruce: Yeah. Well, yeah. I don't really know what happened, but I think at that time, I don't think it was all a mistake, I think he was really trying to travel too fast and maybe, you know, listen to other peoples in a whole lot of things that he was doing. I don't think that some of the blacks was even pleased with him. They got all this, and a whole lot of it, I think, was a plot-up[?], but we spent a whole lot of money on Eddie James, you know, trying to get him cleared up, but he finally kind of got his life together, and he's running for state representative, but he pulled a whole lot of votes, but he didn't make it, because he was running against a strong person, that was Mary Ann Stevens[?], because she's well known, and she's been down there a long time. Kind of like Representative Clark. But he made a good showing. But he's kind of got his life back on track, now, and he seems to be coming on back this a-way.



Tanzman: Yeah, well, when he was mayor, he brought in a lot of programs, right?



Bruce: That's right.



Tanzman: But he was accused of murdering--.



Bruce: Yeah, (inaudible) including in that. But I don't think, they weren't able never to prove that part of it. They tried to connect him in with it.



Tanzman: Mm-hm. The FDP was supportive of him.



Bruce: Oh, yeah, we supported him all the way through. Mm-hm. Sure did.



Tanzman: Do you think that him going into electoral politics was a result of having the movement be so strong here in the county?



Bruce: Well, Holmes County has never been hard to organize, I mean, because peoples was ready for a change and once they found out that they could change it, as I said, now, we had a whole lot of people wouldn't even stick their head out the door at that time, maybe even if you go by the house. Like I said, the teachers. You couldn't get any ministers, preachers, involved in it, and wasn't anything mostly but what we called the grassroots people was pushing the movement. And so that's the way that we had to go. And as time moved on, we did get a few teachers in it and then after some of the teachers got, some of them was having problems and we supported them and we had Berneice Montgomery was the first teacher that became involved in the movement and then later on--.



Tanzman: From Lexington?



Bruce: Yeah. Later on, (inaudible) we were able to pull one or two (inaudible), Ms. Barnes[?] and Daisy Lewis, but she was a retired teacher, you know, but she was real active.



Tanzman: Well, who were the people, for example, from Durant? Where did people work at who were active in FDP? Who were the people who were the backbone of it?



Bruce: Talking about of the--?



Tanzman: Of the movement here. They weren't the teachers. They weren't the preachers. Were they household workers? What kinds of things did people do for a living that did get involved?



Bruce: Well, as I said, most of them was just, you know, catching cotton trucks and things like that. Wasn't really anybody, hardly, in no factories at that time and so I just made up my mind, and I just got on out there, and I wasn't thinking about, or I really didn't care what happened because I figured that my freedom was more important than worrying about a job or something like that. And so I just really got involved in it, and it wasn't hardly a day passed that some time I'd be on the top of a house, and some incident happened, and I just had to quit work and go see about that or this, and so, I was putting more time in the movement than I was on my job.



Tanzman: I remember that.



Bruce: Yeah. And so I just really got involved in it, and we were able to still talk to teachers and things. And then one of the preachers and a teacher, Reverend Booker. He was pretty strong in it.



Tanzman: From Lexington?



Bruce: Yeah. And then when they fired him, then that's when--?



Tanzman: His church fired him?



Bruce: No, they put pressure on the black principal McLain[?] and he's the one that fired him. And then that's when I got a call to come down to William and Southern School to talk with the teacher, because, they didn't tell me, but they had said, you know, that they wasn't coming to no meeting, because what they was saying, wasn't nothing in the movement but grassroots people. Wasn't nobody in there had enough education could tell them anything.



Tanzman: Who were the people that asked you to come down and talk to the teachers?



Bruce: It was one of the teachers, somebody down there, they was trying to see what we could do about Reverend Booker.



Tanzman: Oh.



Bruce: And so when I got down there, well, there was a whole room of teachers. (Laughter.) And it was kind of funny. And I said, "Now, y'all are asking us for help." I said, "Now, y'all didn't tell me, but," I said, "I was understanding that y'all said that we wasn't nothing but grassroots and we didn't have enough education, that there wasn't anything that we could tell y'all." I said, "That's what came back to the meetings-- that that's what y'all said." And I said, "Now, here y'all are sitting down here waiting on us to help y'all." And I told them, I said, "Now, one thing you need to realize." I said, "You can teach school, and I can't teach school," and I said, "but God give everybody a gift." I said, "Now, I can read a blueprint, and you can't." And I said, "Now, what's the difference?" I said, "I'm self-employed." I said, "Now, y'all are worried about y'all jobs?" And so we talked around there, and I told them, I said, "Now, we going to see that Booker get his job back. And so," and I said, "but I need y'all to sign the letter letting him know that we got all of y'all's support."



And they said, "Well, why we got to sign?"



I said, "Well, I reckon I want everybody to sign because next week might be your week." And I said, "If you don't sign to help him get his job back, and then they fire you, we're not going to support you."



Tanzman: You wanted them to sign a letter to the school? To the principal?



Bruce: Yeah. And so before I left, they every one of them had to sign, and late that evening they had put him back.



Tanzman: So, you were very effective.



Bruce: Most anything we got in, we didn't let it alone till it come out in our favor. We never lost. (Laughter.) We never really lost a candidate that we would endorse. Yeah. And they know that so you don't find many white or black going to run for anything in Holmes County, then they contact me to come through that organization. Yes.



Tanzman: Oh, I know that by the midsixties, or sixty-seven, I guess, when you were becoming chairman around then, you were saying there weren't many teachers originally, but there was some decision to run Robert Clark. Could you tell us about that candidacy for state legislature?



Bruce: Yeah, at that time, we decided that we were going to endorse representatives, as I said. Now, we had a whole lot of teachers and things that wasn't involved in the movement, but most all of them supported him when he was running for that position because we didn't have no black and everybody was ready for a change, but a whole lot of people just wasn't ready to help make the change. But now, we could go to them individuals and talk to them. Now, they were for what you were doing, but they was, some of them, was just scared to get involved in it. And they didn't get involved in it, but when we decided to endorse Robert Clark, well, I don't think it was anybody, hardly, that was registered, that didn't go out and vote.



Tanzman: Was this after Booker was fired and then rehired?



Bruce: Oh, yeah, he was rehired back?



Tanzman: No, I mean, was this after then that Clark ran?



Bruce: I believe it was. Yeah, uh-huh.



Tanzman: And do you remember why the FDP picked Clark who was at that time, I think, a teacher and a coach in Lexington?



Bruce: Well, you know, when you be having different meetings and things and peoples come to your meeting and sometimes when you call on a person to speak or something, and he had already been something like a spotlight out there, and at that time, we didn't have anybody else that probably would have even wanted to run, or been afraid to run, and he always stood out some way, that you could see it in him, and he didn't hesitate to run for it. And he wasn't afraid. He always would speak out, and was always considered as a good speaker. Yeah.



Tanzman: OK. I'm going to stop for a minute to change the tape.



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



Tanzman: So, when Representative Clark was elected, there weren't any blacks in the state legislature?



Bruce: He was the onliest black down there. He stayed down there quite a few years by himself. (Laughter.)



Tanzman: Was he the only one for a long time?



Bruce: Yeah, a long time, and then we finally got organized and got other peoples involved in it and we had some other districts, you know, that could elect a black if they would come together, and so, that's how it got started. He was the first one down there.



Tanzman: Nineteen sixty-seven.



Bruce: Sixty-seven when he was elected. Yeah. Sure was.



Tanzman: What kind of difference did it make for Holmes County? Did he come back to meetings to here or did you feel like Holmes County was gaining a lot from having someone in office? How did that work?



Bruce: Well, it worked real good, you know. We would go around to other communities, you know, and tell them about Holmes County. And we was invited to a whole lot of other counties to let them know, you know, how we would go about getting black peoples elected and what we had to do like all that, you know, thing, to pull it together. And so, we were very successful. Now, that's one thing about representatives. From day one, he was elected, he never quit coming back to the county. He never quit. The only time he don't come to the county-wide meetings today is if he be tied up. But anytime, he has a whole lot of engagements of speaking. He's very supportive and he don't do anything unless he informs FDP about it. And he's still that same way today. And then after that, then we were able to elect other peoples.



Tanzman: Locally?



Bruce: Yeah, locally, and then we was able to branch out into other counties and talk with different people and let them know what they had to do, you know, to get peoples elected and get all our people registered and what they could expect doing.



Tanzman: So, Holmes County helped teach some of the other counties?



Bruce: Yeah. We had to go to Attala County because Attala County is still kind of tough. They didn't have any blacks at that time. They were able to elect a couple of black supervisors and then Leflore County and Greenville and all them started to running and Madison County and Hinds County.



Tanzman: Carroll?



Bruce: And Carroll, yeah. So everybody was able to kind of ease somebody down there, and so every time we get one down there, that means he had one more down there with him.



Tanzman: Oh, this is in the state legislature?



Bruce: Yeah. Uh-huh. But then we was able, you know, to elect aldermen, supervisors, and different things in different counties. Yeah. Mm-hm.



Tanzman: How about the elections within this county for sheriff, county supervisors, offices within Durant and different parts? Was FDP involved a lot in trying to get people elected? Or were you running people? Or just helping?



Bruce: Yeah, at that time, I just used Durant because that's where I live at. At that time, after we got Representative Clark down there, well, see, and when it came open where black peoples could run, well, see in Durant and Lexington and all those places, there were more white in the city than black. And if you run a candidate in Durant, he would have to run what we call city-wide. And so that means most of the white were going to vote for the white, and black going to vote for the black. But, then you're going to have some blacks were going to support those whites. And then--.



Tanzman: Does that mean, like, the aldermen are elected city-wide?



Bruce: Yeah, and so then we decided that we were going to have to try to get a ward system. So me and Ms. Hightower and Ms. Ball[?], that's when we filed that suit trying to get Durant broke up into [a] ward system.



Tanzman: Was that Viola Winters?



Bruce: Yeah. And the response that we got back [was] that the population was too small for Durant to go into the ward system, and so, it was listed as a rural city. It wasn't, you know, just city and so we lost that suit.



Tanzman: How big was Durant then?



Bruce: It was a pretty good size when they were using all that, and so a few years later, quite a few years later, I just happened to pick up a Holmes County paper and I seen in there where they had stated that Durant had become the largest city in Holmes County, populationwise. And I said, "Now this is a good time for me." And I turned right around and filed another suit, and so then, we got Mark--. Well, we first contacted Victor McTeal[?]. But anyway, me and Ms. Hightower, Switchy Harvey[?], and Ms. Bowler[?], we went to Greenville, and we talked with Victor McTeal.



Tanzman: Is that an attorney?



Bruce: Yeah. He decided that he was going to help us in that ward system, and then he got Margaret Karen[?], she's an attorney, now. I think she's won a district, a judge, now, but anyway, she was the one for Holmes County. So she came out.



Tanzman: She was from the Center For Constitutional Rights?



Bruce: Yeah, and so she came over and we worked around for time and time and time and went to the board with us and Calvin McCain[?] went to the city attorney and they didn't want to give in, but we finally won that lawsuit. And Durant was broke up in [a] ward system.



Tanzman: When was that, Mr. Bruce?



Bruce: That was in the eighties. It's been that a-way for about--. It was probably in the early eighties. I believe it was. And so, then, once we got it up into [a] ward system, and then when the next election came around, we was able to have different counties out of each ward, and that's when we was able to elect blacks to the city council here in Durant after we got it broke up in wards. And Lexington is in the ward system. That's the reason they got. So we went from Durant to Lexington.



Tanzman: How many wards are in Durant?



Bruce: Five.



Tanzman: So, how many people were elected that were black to begin with?



Bruce: We've got three blacks and two whites on the board of aldermen. Now we've got a black mayor.



Tanzman: You have a black mayor here?



Bruce: Yeah.



Tanzman: Since when was that?



Bruce: This is his first term.



Tanzman: Oh, this is the first time in history.



Bruce: Yeah.



Tanzman: Was FDP actually campaigning for him?



Bruce: Oh, yeah.



Tanzman: Who was that? What's his name? Congratulations!



Bruce: He--. (Laughter.) It's not working out too good.



Tanzman: Oh.



Bruce: But, he's there. His name is Jerry T. Wiley Sr.[?]. Did you ever know Willie Wiley[?] used to live in Lexington and used to work for Hazel Smith?



Tanzman: Mm-hm.



Bruce: That's his brother.



Tanzman: Oh. He's not working out too well?



Bruce: No, I mean, sometimes, you know, I mean, sometimes when peoples get elected, sometimes they really seem to forget how they got elected. And they mostly just want to get up there and do on their own, without asking people that really, you know, know what's going on in Durant or what it takes to work in Durant, and so we're not really pleased at their performance, but still, you know, he seems to be coming around, but he's not standing up like he should and ought to.



Tanzman: Who actually has the power in the city? Is it more the ward or the mayor?



Bruce: Well, right now it seems like to me that he's taken a whole lot of the power from the aldermen, but I don't really blame him totally for that, because I really can blame some of the aldermen for turning it most all over to him, because, see, this is something going to have to be worked together. No one person cannot run no city. And so, he's mostly kind of calling the shots and some of them are just sitting back and letting him call the shots. And the two white is not saying anything, but see it's hard to get it over [to] them that sometimes when white peoples not saying anything, they are thinking about the next four years. See what I'm saying? They're going to let him make a whole lot of his own race angry with him and then if you don't watch it, then the white man will come out and be the next mayor or the next alderman. And see, he's not really looking at that. See, he's doing most of what the black people want or what they ask for, and see, the white person going along with it because they know a whole lot of this that's going on is going to backfire.



Tanzman: Mm-hm. Well, how does FDP--? I know FDP [is] in Holmes County. Is this the only one in the state, now?



Bruce: The only one in the state. Out of the whole Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party, Holmes County [is] the only one going. We still meet every third Sunday.



Tanzman: You do?



Bruce: Yeah.



Tanzman: Are there community meetings still?



Bruce: Not too many community meetings. Sometimes they might have something and they call a meeting, but now, mostly all sections of the county still involved in the county-wide. But now, if anything come up, it's no problem getting them to come out and attend it. Or if something happens in West, we can call a meeting in West, they'll come out of Durant, or Lexington, or Mileston, or (inaudible). Wherever something is happening, if we have to get involved in it, they'll turn out.



Tanzman: What are some of the issues people have been working on, now? What are some of the kinds of things? I remember one meeting I went to in the eighties was partly about the kids and no after-school programs and, you know, we had a long discussion about the children in the county.



Bruce: Well, we're still trying to get some places that young peoples can meet and have that. We haven't come up with no playground. I mean, they got some parks here, but they mostly after every ball game, I either let them have a record hop or something out at the Improvement Center. And now they've opened up the old city hall. They can have record hops up there after the game. And then we have the state home building up here that's connected up with (inaudible) and they also lets them have dances up there after the game. Then sometimes we let them have them at the gym. And so, we try to keep a place that the young people can go, you know, and have their exercise.



Tanzman: Mm-hm. But is that what's happening with youth and is that one of the areas that FDP's been concerned about?



Bruce: Yeah, we're very much concerned about the young people. We're still involved in the same things that we was in the sixties. Sometimes, you know, peoples come up with things. Well, we investigate it, you know, and if it's in their favor, we, you know, go all the way out. You know, sometimes it don't be in their favor, but it's done come a time now that when somebody comes to you, you've got to investigate it before you really get out there in it because sometimes it don't be exactly like they say it is. But, I mean, to be honest, sometimes I have as many white folks come to me for information as I do blacks. But I always have been able to work with blacks or whites. But, now I'm going to speak my opinion, but now I don't dislike nobody, you know, but, I might, if your agenda's not right, I'm not going to go along with it. I don't care if you're white or black. And so, we have endorsed some white candidate if we figure they can be a help to us. But we just coming out of this election, and it's not quite over because see we got to go back in November, because see the chancery clerk, she got an opponent coming out against, you know, at that time, against her, but you know, well, she finally won out, but we still got a few of them that's got a run-off, you know, but--.



Tanzman: Do you go out in the community and campaign or are you not endorsing particular people?



Bruce: Well, we did endorse Dorothy Jean[?] because we figured that she had a--.



Tanzman: Dorothy Jean who?



Bruce: (Inaudible.)



Tanzman: For? The chancery clerk?



Bruce: The chancery clerk. Uh-huh. We did endorse her at the county-wide meetings we had down in the Ebenezer community at St. Peter. We did endorse her, but, well, we had not openly done a whole lot of endorsing, but at the time we were really endorsing, that's when it was just mostly white against black, but now you've got sometimes blacks coming out against blacks. Sometimes we don't endorse them openly unless we know that one of them is not going to be the right candidate. But sometimes you might have two come out that it's kind of hard to, you know, make a choice.



Tanzman: How about with the Congressional campaigns when Bennie Thompson was running? And when they redistricted and it was possible to elect black Congresspeople for the first time in so long. How did FDP, Freedom Democratic Party, work?



Bruce: Well, FDP always has played a big part in Bennie Thompson's race or Clark. All of those. We always go. We just got to get with him. What I'm saying is, you've got a few peoples that will go to these meetings and if you don't watch them they will try to get behind your back and, like that they is the whole show. But we let them know that if the FDP didn't endorse him, nine times out of ten, he wouldn't get elected. And so we got a few of the same things happening now in this governor's race. You got some people just jump from one candidate to another because this is a black lady, Dorothy Myers[?]. She's from the Ebenezer community because now, see, I know her. When the primary was, she was for this other Farris[?] for governor, and now since he lost out now, she's jumping on the bandwagon, trying to get some money from the Musgrove campaign. See what I'm saying, you don't need to jump from party to party. But I never considered just because of a person running, that you be trying to fatten your pocket out. We were trying to get the best peoples elected that's going to help everybody, but some peoples just in there to make a few dollars while they're campaigning for them. Then after the campaign, you won't see them no more.



Tanzman: Do some of the candidates come to FDP meetings to campaign?



Bruce: Yeah.



Tanzman: What about the governor's people?



Bruce: Yeah, some of them will come, too. Yeah, because one time we had this meeting at the Clark's center there in Lexington. That kind of came through the NAACP because Weston Brooks[?], he's still an FDP member, and he's also an NAACP member, so, we all come to that meeting on that particular time; and, the meeting before that, we was down at the FDP meeting. But anyway, Representative Clark was chairing that meeting because we had him to invite all of the state-wide candidates that was going to be connected up in Holmes County, so most all of them came to that meeting, and we had a real good meeting that Sunday. But, now, you take Mary Magee[?], she's a tax collector, and now, she's taken it up on her own. She mostly goes to every elected official in Holmes County once a year and each one of them gives her fifty dollars, and so, all that be turned over to the FDP. Most every candidate that's elected, at least, we gets fifty dollars a year out of them. But if we have something, then they'll respond to that, too. But she takes it up on her own to go around to all of them, white and black.



Tanzman: I know you have the community center that FDP built, I guess, here or fixed up in Durant. Are there other community centers? And what have they been doing? What was the idea of having those?



Bruce: Well, now, West, they've still got a community center they can use when they get ready. We've still got this one down here, and--.



Tanzman: Is it for meetings or is it for other community activities?



Bruce: Talking about ours out here?



Tanzman: Yeah.



Bruce: Oh, no, it's for meetings, for young people to have parties out there, record hops. Whatever they want to have out there, it's for that. I mean, we have other people that rents it out, I mean maybe for a night or so, but we never, the young people never been ruled out. They use it most whenever they get ready.



Tanzman: That's great.



Bruce: I just have to have some grown people out there with them. You can't just let them have it by themselves.



Tanzman: A chaperone.



Bruce: Uh-huh, yeah.



Tanzman: And what about the other centers, like West, and so on? Are they being used?



Bruce: I don't--. Well, now, every once in a while, West has meetings up there. If we had to have a meeting or something, we'd go to the center, but I don't imagine that the kids use it, and now, we've got a trailer over there at Lexington up there where Rock[?] used to be. See, we still own that, the FDP.



Tanzman: Oh.



Bruce: Yeah, we've got a trailer up there and then this building, we've got it leased out. They've got a restaurant up there. They serve good food up there. See, we've got twenty-one acres up there. That's what we're in the process of, now, is going to try to get them twenty-one acres cleaned off, and for some kind of recreation or something up there for the kids.



Tanzman: Oh, this is FDP owns twenty-one acres up near Lexington?



Bruce: Yeah. Up on the hill, top of that (inaudible).



Tanzman: You wanted to do a big center there?



Bruce: You know (inaudible) used to meet up there?



Tanzman: Yes.



Bruce: We own that.



Tanzman: Oh. Great.



Bruce: Got a trailer sitting there and a building there, but the building, they got a restaurant out of that. And they're doing good up in that restaurant. And we've got a trailer up there.



Tanzman: And you want to build a real center. A community center for the county?



Bruce: Yeah, we're probably going to do something. But now, we hold meetings in that trailer.



Tanzman: Oh, that's where the FDP--?



Bruce: Yeah, well, sometimes we have our meetings there. It's a pretty good size.



Tanzman: Why do you think that FDP still exists in this county as opposed to in the whole state there isn't anything? How has it been able to keep going all these years?



Bruce: Well, I was asked that same question when we went to Minnesota: how do we keep people motivated enough to want to attend, but I told him that we always have something going on in Holmes County, and if you keep going, and keep motivating people that you will always have somebody that wants to come, and you've got a segment of people just be looking forward to that third Sunday to come to the meeting and share our ideas. And we have all of the candidates that's running to come there and speak, and all that. Because, now, you take this election that's, most of it is over, but some third Sunday we would have from twelve, thirteen, or fifteen candidates that would be there, and so we stayed--.



Tanzman: Speaking?



Bruce: Yeah. And we'd give every one of them a time limit to speak, and one reason we keeps it going, see, just say if something happened, you already organized. You won't have to be calling no meetings to try to get organized before you can go. Just say if something happened in Durant that we see is going to need a selective buying, what I'm saying, all I would have to do is just call a meeting and go from there. You won't have to try to organize. We're already organized, and we try to, you know, let every community know what's going on. Now most all of the communities still paying their community dues. See, each community pays $10 every third Sunday to the county-wide to keep money in our treasury just in case this community or that community might need a little assistance or something, then we can help out like that.



Tanzman: That's been going on many years, hasn't it? The chipping in and giving something to the county-wide?



Bruce: Yeah, uh-huh.



Tanzman: Does that include the Delta at all? Are there any people there?



Bruce: Delta people not doing too much. Now, sometimes we'll have people like John D. Wesley, a few of them out there, but they're not doing too much.



Tanzman: And when they were--. I know nationally and including in the county and Eddie Carthan[?] was involved in the issue of land loss. You know, land that was taken away or stolen from black farmers and trying to get justice for it. Was that an issue that people within the FDP were working on?



Bruce: Well, I think it was just mostly individual people like Representative Clark, because, you know, a whole lot of people in the FDP wouldn't know--. You know, they was all, you know, checking the records and things like that but anything that come up, you know, that we had to put any pressure on, well, we were right there with them.



Tanzman: Mm-hm. Are people in Lexington still involved in the county-wide?



Bruce: Yeah, we've got a few people in Lexington. Yeah, Ms. B.[?], and Brooks[?], Hamp[?]. Yeah, we've got quite a--. We've got enough in most of the communities that if something happened, then we can get them word--. What I'm saying is Holmes County has always been a county, now, they might not meet every time that you meet, but if something happens, they will rally behind it. That's one thing. I wouldn't be afraid to call on them for anything like that.



Tanzman: There's a long tradition, isn't there?



Bruce: Yeah. Uh-huh. If it's just the spur of the moment that you would have, you would be surprised how many people just, would come together.



Tanzman: Mm-hm. That's terrific. And are you also involved? Were you on the school board for a while, or here in Durant?



Bruce: I was on there for probably going on maybe twenty-five years.



Tanzman: Since when? Since the early seventies?



Bruce: We was the first ones. When it first integrated, you know they had a white, it was an all-white board. And then we met, and our attorney told us that we needed to select two people from the community to present out there. And so we met over here at (inaudible) Church, and they elected me and Mr. Winters to serve on the school board. And so, then when we met, we was placed on there. I was probably on there maybe like twenty, probably close to twenty-five years.



Tanzman: And was it majority white at the beginning or what?



Bruce: On the board?



Tanzman: Yeah.



Bruce: Oh, it was all white when we got on there. It was just like three white and two black, but now it's two white and three black.



Tanzman: Were you able to affect conditions in the schools a lot? I mean, how did you--?



Bruce: The school was doing real good. We got [a] good relationship and everything. So, it's going, I'm really pleased with the school.



Tanzman: Mm-hm. It's improved a lot, the Durant High School and the elementary?



Bruce: Oh, yeah. Well, it's all connected there. You know, they've got a high school part and an elementary part. But it's doing real great, and they're doing some remodeling and building a building up there now. And this building is going to be--. See, you've got a whole lot of people that works out of town, and the doors don't open up there till like maybe fifteen minutes to eight. And you got parents that go all the way to Carthage[?], (inaudible) to get a job, and that makes some of them have to get their kids up so early, and they just have to be standing around up there until the door opens. And so, we're building a building up there now, that this building's going to have a big part in it where people that have to drop their kids off early won't have to stand on the outside. They can just sit in there till the school door opens. So, that's going to be a great help.



Tanzman: Is that, like, care for the kids before the school. They'll drop them and there'll be somebody in charge of them?



Bruce: Somebody will be in charge of them till the school bell rings.



Tanzman: That's great. And then is that after school, too?



Bruce: Well, after school, they can most of them walk home, and a whole lot of parents picks them up, but the main part is on that morning side. Mm-hm.



Tanzman: That's great. Do they have free school lunches?



Bruce: Yeah, it all depends on, you know--.



Tanzman: Oh, the income?



Bruce: Yeah, but they have free lunch.



Tanzman: So, you feel like the schools have turned around a lot?



Bruce: Yeah, they're doing real good. I'm really pleased with the school.



Tanzman: And have a lot of the white kids come back?



Bruce: Yeah, some came back. Sure have.



Tanzman: Some came back?



Bruce: Mm-hm. Some came back. That's right.



Tanzman: Mrs. Clark was telling me that they took the school that was built out there for black kids originally, in West. They made the academy there?



Bruce: Yeah, that's a private school in West, now. Used to be black. Sure did.



Tanzman: Is there public money going to that?



Bruce: I haven't ever been able to find that out, but I believe they're getting something. I don't believe they're really supporting it all by themselves. You know, but we haven't been able to find out. (Laughter.)



Tanzman: Was your wife and daughter involved some in the movement?



Bruce: My wife was. My daughter--.



Tanzman: Louise.



Bruce: Well, she would go to meetings and things with me, and she was part of the reason that I'm in there because even after she got sick, she never would--. There were two things she never would want me to miss: my singing group or the movement.



Tanzman: This was your wife, Louise.



Bruce: She would go out of her way or even attend, if she wasn't sick, to keep me from staying there.



Tanzman: Very supportive of your work.



Bruce: Yes, she really was, so I give her that credit. She was.



Tanzman: Great. Your singing group was the--? Tell me about that. I know you've been involved in that many years.



Bruce: On this coming, fourth Sunday in October--. I'm one of the founders of the group. It'll be forty-one years this coming fourth Sunday. (Laughter.)



Tanzman: Well, congratulations.



Bruce: That I've been in that group. And this coming fourth Sunday in October, we'll be celebrating our fortieth year anniversary, but the first year we didn't have an anniversary, but I was still in it. That was forty years ago. It'll be forty-one years ago the fourth Sunday in October.



Tanzman: What's it called?



Bruce: Soul Travelers.



Tanzman: And this is the gospel--?



Bruce: Yeah, gospel group.



Tanzman: You've performed all over.



Bruce: Yeah.



Tanzman: That's great. Are you going to have a special event for your anniversary?



Bruce: We're having our anniversary the fourth Sunday in October down at William Southern[?] High School. We'll have different groups. Some out of town groups, but we've done quite a bit of traveling. We've been to Chicago. We've been to Flynt. We've been to Rockwell[?]. We've been to Waterloo, New Orleans, and all them kinds of places and then second Sunday next month, we'll be in Dallas, if nothing happens. Yeah. Dallas, Texas.



Tanzman: And are you still working?



Bruce: Yeah. (Laughter.) I don't take no big jobs. If I do, I'll contract them out. You know, I'll be over them because a whole lot of people that used to work for, and if you don't do it, I'll have to be in charge of it. I might get somebody else to do the work, but I have to be in charge of it. Mostly I just take small jobs that I can, you know, mostly do by myself. But sometimes, like putting roofing on, and they'll want me to be over it, and I'll just get somebody and go on and do it. So, I take big jobs, but most of them, I don't do them by myself.



Tanzman: So, you're mostly doing the movement and whatever you want to do, right now. (Laughter.)



Bruce: Yeah, uh-huh. I don't work every day, but I could. But sometimes I might work every day. It just all depends. And then that's one reason I went to Greenville yesterday. I was supposed to have been working, but I could take off, but sometimes on Saturday it was kind of hard to get enough people there for (inaudible). And so, we tried it on a Friday. So, now yesterday and the last two meetings we had on a Friday, we had good attendance.



Tanzman: What is this group?



Bruce: That's the MACE board. The Mississippi Action for Community Education. I'm on it. I've been on that board about thirty-something years, too.



Tanzman: Well, that's another story, maybe, I'll have to get back to next time we talk because I'd like to know more about that. I didn't know MACE was still here.



Bruce: Oh, yeah, MACE is strong or stronger than ever. Got a whole lot of assets, profits, and buildings and things. It's going strong.



Tanzman: Is there still a project here in the county around transportation? What was that? Not MACE, but--. Oh, it was MACE. Yeah, around more accessible transportation.



Bruce: Not now. Yeah, but I think Isaiah[?] is trying to get connected back up with them. He's trying to help [them] get started back. We talked about that a little bit yesterday. But, I told him he needed to get a little more involved in the community. Anything I'm in, I like for it to benefit the whole community or county, whatever. I don't believe, you know, in just one or two people getting in there and make a family thing out of it. It's for the community.



Tanzman: You mean you want him to assess what's needed in the whole community?



Bruce: Yeah. Not just two or three people setting in there. Yeah.



Tanzman: But they did have, didn't they, at one time, they had buses in the county?



Bruce: Yeah. They had some transport buses and things around to carry people to different places, but I think that fund ran out.



Tanzman: Oh. OK. Well, I want to thank you, Mr. Bruce. I really appreciate it. And we may continue this at some other time, but I think we have a good idea about the Freedom Democratic Party.



Bruce: Oh, yeah. OK.



(End of the interview.)

 
 

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