An Oral History


Dr. Otha Burton Jr.

Interviewer: Donald Williams

Tougaloo College Archives

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

Funding for this project was provided in part by the Mississippi

Humanities Council, the National Endowment for the Humanities, and

the Mississippi Department of Archives and History.



Dr. Otha Burton Jr. was born January 28, 1950, in Vicksburg, Mississippi. He attended McIntyre Elementary School and Temple High School in Vicksburg, and was graduated from the still-segregated Temple High School in 1968. He has an M.A.T. from Jackson State University as well as a Ph.D. in Public Administration from Mississippi State University. He is currently the chief administrative officer for the city of Jackson.

His father, Mr. Otha Burton Sr., operated a shoe shop and a barber shop where Dr. Burton worked from the age of ten until the age of twenty-three, where he received a valuable informal education from members of his community regarding important events and issues germane to improving the quality of life.

Table of Contents

Higher education 2

Working in father's shoe and barber shop 4

Early childhood 5

Education in public elementary school 6

Dr. Martin Luther King 10

Reverend Eddie McBride 11

Boycott 13

Vicksburg Citizens' Appeal 13

Importance of African-American solidarity 14




This is an interview for the Civil Rights Documentation Project. The interview is with Dr. Otha Burton Jr. and is taking place on July 9, 1999. The interviewer is Don Williams.

Williams: Let me just start this tape by telling you a little bit about what we're doing. Today is the ninth of July, 1999, and we are in the Hood[?] Building, and I'm talking to Mr. Otha Burton who is the city administrator for the city of Jackson. He migrated from Vicksburg. Am I correct?

Burton: That's correct.

Williams: Mr. Burton, basically--. I'm going to just cut this off.

(There is a brief interruption in the tape.)

Williams: Mr. Burton, Otha, O-?

Burton: O-T-H-A.

Williams: A. Burton. B-U-R-

Burton: T-O-N.

Williams: N.

Burton: And that's junior.

Williams: Junior. OK.

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

Williams: What is your date of birth?

Burton: One, twenty-eight, fifty.

Williams: And you were born where?

Burton: Vicksburg, Mississippi.

Williams: Vicksburg, OK. Have you ever--? Well, of course, you've lived in Jackson, but have you lived anyplace else outside of Vicksburg?

Burton: Not for any real length of time other than, I did some research in Washington back in ninety-four. I worked with the Department of Transportation up there for about five months, but other than that, Jackson and Vicksburg.

Williams: You've never been in the Army, or nothing like that?

Burton: No.

Williams: Well, how did you get around that Vietnam thing, because it looks like you'd have been just about ready for Vietnam.

Burton: Well, I had a, going to school, I--. At the time, they gave this deferment when you graduated. I mean, when you were in college, and then I went to graduate school. My number, selective service number, I think, was like seventy-eight. I think they called up to seventy-five. They just missed me by three.

Williams: And what school did you attend in Vicksburg?

Burton: Elementary school at McIntyre[?]; high school at Temple High.

Williams: At Temple. And when did you graduate from Temple High School?

Burton: Nineteen sixty-eight.

Williams: Nineteen sixty-eight. Was it integrated at that time?

Burton: No.

Williams: And then, where did you go to college?

Burton: I have a Bachelor's and Master's from Jackson State, and a Ph.D. from Mississippi State.

Williams: OK. So you got a Bachelor's of Science and a M.S. or--?

Burton: I have a Bachelor's of Arts and an M.A.T., Master of Arts in teaching. And then a Ph.D.

Williams: From Mississippi State?

Burton: Mississippi State.

Williams: And that Ph.D. is in?

Burton: Public administration.

Williams: And when did you earn your Ph.D?

Burton: In 1997.

Williams: Do you know Dr. Donald Trainmen[?]?

Burton: Sure. He chaired my dissertation.

Williams: Oh, well, we've got some connections then. I was with Dr. (inaudible) over at Texas Southern University.

Burton: All right. Well, I know him well.

Williams: OK. Tell him that you met Don Williams and a friend of Dr. Bobby Mills.

Burton: I'll tell him.

Williams: When you talk to him. Yeah. Is he still editing The Black Scholar?

Burton: I don't know. We've done some publications together. Did a chapter in a book that got published from a professor at L.S.U. and collaborated on some other things.

Williams: OK. Great. Great. Fantastic. So, you are presently the--

Burton: Chief administrative officer for the city of Jackson.

Williams: OK. And you've been that since when?

Burton: Since last year. Been in this capacity a little over a year.

Williams: OK. Now, what church did you attend while you were in Vicksburg?

Burton: Wesley. It's now Wesley United Methodist Church.

Williams: OK. And you graduated from Temple in 1968. OK. Can you tell me a little bit about your family? Your mother and father and if you have any brothers and sisters?

Burton: Of course, my father was Otha Burton Sr. and my mother is Mamie Burton. My father is now deceased. He died in 1983. We lived on Cherry Street, the corner of Cherry and Fed Street in Vicksburg. My father operated a shoe repair business. A shoe shop and a barber shop. In fact, I worked there with him many, many years. Started there at the age of ten, and at the age of thirty-three, I still would go over and help him some weekends. He was self-employed. My mother retired from the Valley[?] Department Store on Washington Street and I have a sister, whole sister Carol Burton, and I have half-sisters, and half-brothers.

Williams: And where are they?

Burton: Currently, all my sisters are in Atlanta. My mother now lives in Atlanta. We were a very close family. I worked with my father, as I said, early on and started about the age of ten at the shoe shop, learning how to fix shoes and learning how to be respectful of the client and customer. Our clientele was basically the common man. People would come there who needed shoes fixed. As I said, we also had a barber shop that had about four barbers in there, and people came from Kings or Watersville, down from Utica. Across the river in Louisiana. We had a shop right there on what they used to call the "low end of Washington Street." And, I remember those very formative years, and I think I got as much education there going and listening to ministers come in and talk and sit. You know, barber shops, as they are now, were just a place where you could come and sit and talk and listen and just by listening, if you applied just listening skills, even if you didn't know what that meant at that time, coming up as a child, you could hear a lot being talked about, and what wasn't in the paper, in the newspaper, back in those days, about what was happening and what was happening in the community, and how did they see the civil rights movement, and how they either agreed or disagreed and what they thought about education. What they thought about the war in Vietnam and what they thought about who ran for office, and an enlightening education in itself.

Williams: OK. Now, what period of time would you say this is, your exposure in the barber shop and the shoe shop?

Burton: Of course, as a child, ages six, seven, and eight, I'd go down. My mother would take me down or whatever, but started working at the age of ten which is 1960.

Williams: OK. So 1960.

Burton: So, I'd say late fifties and started working on a regular basis in 1960.

Williams: OK. You mentioned the content, by listening and your being exposed to certain ideas, and what was going on, what people were concerned with, when did you first realize that there was--. We might be just jumping back just a little bit, but I think we're going to get back to the barber shop in the late part of the fifties. When did you first realize that, you know, that, you became conscious of race relations, that you were Afro-American, and there might be some differences?

Burton: Well, growing up in an all-black neighborhood and in a strong family, strong church, strong community, children had a sense of, in general at that time, of protection or feeling comfortable in their neighborhood. Grew up in an all-black school, went to all-black church. All my neighbors were black. Everybody I associated with was black. Didn't have a chance to see anybody white until I ventured outside of my environment. The things I was concerned about as a kid, as most other kids, was just being a kid. You know. I know we had a black-and-white TV, and I enjoyed watching TV, but I, like most kids, you like Roy Rogers, and you like Sky King. You like watching Howdy-Doody and whatever on TV. This was nineteen-fifties, you know, and you had a sense of respect for the people in your community, the people in your church. In fact, you feared not doing respectful things, I mean that's what you tended to be, growing up in that environment. My father was originally from Starkville, Mississippi, and really grew up in a community called New Light, which is outside of Starkville, out down Highway Twelve, out on a gravel road, and a lot of Burtons grew up. I mean Burtons and Taylors and Watts[?] were all a big community of people. My dad would talk to me as a young child, even as a teenager and as a young adult, about growing up in New Light, and from a large family and how they accumulated property, coming out of from his grandparents plantation and how they were able to live in that environment and about how, as they became adults, they kind of moved different places but also kept a relationship and ties back there. And I say that because we would often take that trip from Vicksburg to Starkville. It was when we still had relatives up there. Traveling down Highway 80 to Jackson, going through Jackson, meandering through on sometimes Ellis[?] Avenue to take Woodrow Wilson, up old Highway 51, and take the Natchez Trace. I became aware of being black then. Black, because it would take sometimes, I imagine, three hours plus to get from Vicksburg to Starkville. We would have to take our own lunch. We would have to use the bathroom where, (laughter) at places where there were no facilities, and you being kids, too, children, making sure that, as my dad would say, that we didn't do something that would cause us to be pulled over and stopped by white law enforcement or worse. Going up the Natchez Trace, which even today, and I told you I got my degree from Mississippi State, and for the four and a-half, plus years I went up there, my preference was to go Natchez Trace. Most people may go Highway 25 or something, but that was my preference because I did that a whole lot with my dad and my mom and my sisters, riding up to the old home place, but I want you to imagine coming from Vicksburg going to Starkville on those two-lane roads, going through Jackson. Going through parts of, particularly the Natchez Trace, even today which is very isolated. Very scenic and pretty, but isolated. I can remember one time our car, my dad's car, broke down on the Natchez Trace at night, and he had to go and seek help to get that car fixed. It was very scary. I can remember one time, driving through Jackson, back home and got pulled over, I think, somewhere on Ellis Avenue or Highway 80 by a cop, an officer in Jackson, and you just didn't know what to expect, then. My dad would always say, "Just let him do the talking." Just be, you know, pulled us over because the taillight was out, but nothing happened. I was, as a child, I looked to my dad for strength. And he was. He was a very quiet man, but could be very determined, particularly if it became something that involved his family or would involve his personal well-being. And to this day, I have a lot of respect for him, what he instilled in me, sometimes in communication and just sometimes in his own character, the way he carried himself, as well as my mother. But, we got a real sense early on, I can't tell you exactly when, but we knew coming out of our kind of safe environment, or the environment of coming up as a child in your neighborhood and your school, we took that travel, and it was different.

Also, I got a sense of that when, a lot of my relatives live up North, St. Louis and Chicago, and my dad, some summer months when we were still young, would put us on the train. We would catch the City of New Orleans here and ride up to St. Louis. My sister and I would take our little shoe box full of cake and chicken and get on that train and coming to the train station, we went through the [quote, unquote] "colored" entrance, and we sat on the part of the train where all of the other blacks sat. But as children, we didn't come into any confrontation, and fortunately we didn't, it was just, again, the environment. But surely noticeable that there was a little white section and then the colored section.

As the civil rights movement, what we were able to very seldom see on TV, but here our being in the barber shop and the shoe shop discussions, became very, very familiar with it. And you can recall, back in those days, we only had, we didn't have a month of Negro history, we had a day, and in our elementary school we would really get pumped up by doing that, and I appreciate the teachers that we had instilling those educational things in you in your formative years, but we didn't get a whole lot on a regular basis.

Williams: Can you remember some of the teachers' names that highly impacted you or influenced you in any kind of way?

Burton: Well, there's one lady, and she's still living, Mrs. Clay, lives here in Jackson. I think her husband--. I know her husband taught at Jackson State for a long time. She taught me the first grade, second grade, and I believe, fourth grade, maybe. I'll always remember her and some of the students from Vicksburg. There's a Reverend Thomas Ray[?] here, who now is a minister here in Jackson. We were both classmates and even in high school, and she taught us. Very fond of her.

Williams: Well, when you remember her, what do you think about her?

Burton: Oh, caring, you know, caring about the students. Surely a disciplinarian, but a good teacher. You know, we looked forward to going to school. I mean, I'm sure if someone taught you three times, first, second, and fourth grades, you're going to remember that person. It just so happened that she was moving to different grades, and we just--. It's not because we didn't have a lot of teachers at McIntyre Elementary School. But she was one. Ms. Bond[?]. I'm talking about in elementary school, and Ms. Bond taught me, I think, the eighth grade history teacher. In fact, she was such an impression on me, I ended up being a history major when I went to college. In high school, there were some people who were just astronomical. We thought, when we left, when you graduated from Temple High School, you were a well-prepared student.

Williams: Who were some of those folks?

Burton: There's a Ms. Watson. And I'm going to just give the last names. Ms. Dunlap, were both English teachers, and there was a saying, even as I got into high school, that to graduate from Temple High, you had to come through either Ms. Watson or Ms.Dunlap, and they were both English teachers, and they were very good. And we, I think, you talk to anyone who is a graduate or product of Temple High, or even its predecessor, Bowman[?] High, they will tell you with pride, just students that came through that institution and went all over this country being good students, made contributions to society.

Williams: Could you name some of those students and what they've done?

Burton: Well, one is Harvey Johnson Jr. (laughter), who is the mayor of our city. Robert Walker, mayor of--. And these are people, of course, right now I look at some of my classmates, Ed Wiggins and Ruby Wiggins, both with Ph.D.'s. Both got their Doctor's degree from, I think, Southern Illinois, and I think in their field, the first husband and wife to get it at the same time. You know, there's just countless others that--. There's a classmate of mine, Percy Taylor[?] who is working with a Fortune 500 company. I think he lives, I think now, in North Carolina. I haven't seen him in a few years. Marshall Sanders[?], who is an attorney over, now, in Vicksburg. These may be one extreme, but I think when you look at people who, students who came through that nurturing environment, that very competitive environment in that high school, because we thought we were, we were good. And we competed with the, then, the big eight conference in football and basketball, and were always very competitive. And competitive academically. So, we felt very good, and when students who either stayed in Vicksburg, or moved on, who, making as what we intended to do, when you come out with an education, make some contribution to society, contribution to your race, and I like to think people from Vicksburg are some special folks. (Laughter.) And I guess anyone from (inaudible), but I surely do.

Williams: I think they are. I didn't know very much about Vicksburg, but what people I've talked to, it is a special place. Let me ask you this. Now, let me kind of go fast forward, again, and the civil rights movement. When did you first, or what was the defining moment, to say, "Hey, we're in a little struggle, here. There's something going on." And what was your beginning involvement in it? Well, let's start with when did you realize that something was happening, that there was some--.

Burton: I think the person that really, in America, put it front and center was Martin Luther King. To be honest, I heard of Martin Luther King's name before I did Medgar Evers. Even some of those locally in our city who were maybe ministers or business people who may have been part of the local chapter there--.

Williams: Such as whom?

Burton: Oh, you're going to--. That's why I wish you had your list here. It's been a while, but--.

Williams: Mr. Clay, Eddie Thomas.

Burton: Oh, Eddie Thomas. There was one person--.

Williams: Dr. Shirley.

Burton: Dr. Shirley. Well, there was one person who ran a florist's, and I fail to remember his name. And he was, in fact, head of the NAACP. I can't think of his name.

Williams: That's a sad situation, because I should know that. We'll insert that.

Burton: It was on Locust Street[?] is where he lived. I think it was Locust. But, and I can vaguely recall some people who felt that he was not maybe as forceful, but he was head of the chapter there. But the answer, Martin Luther King, what he was doing in the South, and the kind of coverage that was beginning to materialize in the media about him, made us realize that beyond safe environments as kids and what perhaps our parents were protecting us from, that we were different. We were different, and moreso as I became a high school student, that you saw the world differently. And our parents began to open up more and more to us about what was happening, and a lot, as you get older, too, from a protectionist point of view the, when I'm in high school, that civil rights movement--it's 1964, sixty-five--is up and moving and our parents, in general, were concerned as they were either strongly endorsing the movement or somewhat concerned about the well-being of the families. They surely wanted to be concerned about their children.

Williams: How did your parents view you? OK. Let me ask you this: did your parents encourage you or try to protect you? I mean, what were some of the things happening--?

Burton: I think as a high school student it was to be aware that there was just, in discussions that we would have, that there was a different America. Now, I want to say this again. I ended up being a history major. I was coming out of my elementary school training and even early in high school, saw America as, you know, fought for its independence, England, and won the War of 1812, and the North defeated the South in the Civil War, and we were on the good side in World War One and World War Two, and the good guys in the Korean War, and the good guys in the Vietnam War. My dad, would sit down--. You know, we, if you've got a shoe shop, we had these two seats, and he's training me, you know, to be a--. As he would say, "I'm going to give you these skills, son. I'm going to do my best to make sure you get an education, but if you ever have to fall back, you've got these skills. You've got your hands."

So I'm sitting there, and this is Saturdays and evenings and we'd talk. And sometimes it was he and I in the late evenings, and we would try to close down the shop. And I would talk as a kid about, you know, America was right in Vietnam, and he said, "No, son. There's a difference. There's a different America. We shouldn't be over there." And it was maybe about my junior year or senior, I began to see my dad's view of America and seeing what's happening in civil rights issues and protests. My dad was one smart man. That's not to take away what I was getting in the formal education, but he was telling me that it's a lot that's not being said. And when you pick up The Vicksburg Evening Post, you're not reading the truth. You're missing a whole lot. And again, hearing what I did in that barber shop, and the ministers came in. And I remember one guy, this never got in the papers, some guy, some black man, I think his last name was Green. I remember that much, and he was castrated. Thrown his body somewhere, and you never saw that in the paper, but there was talk about it.

Williams: And what year was this?

Burton: Oh, I can't remember. It had to be somewhere, sixty-four, sixty-eight.

Williams: OK. How did people respond?

Burton: Oh, I mean, I'm kind of vague on it, but sure there was concern, but it was how do you respond? We didn't see a whole lot of organized protests in Vicksburg. But there were other subtle ways. Let me tell you one. You mentioned Ms. Miller. And my mother and some other, even from the time of elementary school, what they did. I mean, these were the ways that I thought protest was, that I can see, segments of the black community really standing tall. Even though they may have been limited. They stood to the school system. They said, "We don't want these torn-down curtains that you're going--. And we don't want you to give these hand-me-down books." And they went to these board meetings. These were mothers. "And we don't want these hand-me-down marching band suits that Cooper High School was going to give." These were common people, and they did it with respect, but they did it standing up, just like other parts of the south where people were taking small steps, and they made progress. Ms. Miller and them, they said, "We're going to go out and sell these pronto pups, and we're going to raise--." They didn't call them corn dogs then. "Pronto pups. We're going to raise money so we can have money to buy these." And I played in the marching band at Temple High. And I remember a couple of years, said, "Well, we're going to wear white shirts and black pants till we get the money to buy them some band suits." And they would make the--. These were significant steps to take, back in those days, and in that time.

Of course, when I graduated, sixty-eight is when Dr. King was assassinated, and it was--.

Williams: Yes, tell me what was the response to that?

Burton: Well, that year, you know, you also had Robert Kennedy. Sad times. Very questioning, even moreso as a young person, "What am I in America?" I remember in high school, it was just sad, dark times, at Temple High School. I can vaguely recall the discussions that we would have in class with our teachers about what was happening. In our homes, watching it on TV. Again, the barber shop--.

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

Williams: When Dr. King's assassination occurred, what was the response of your fellow students, your peer group at Temple?

Burton: Well, it covered everything to being sad, to being angry, to wanting to do something to strike back. I can remember our having assembly in the auditorium at Temple and our teachers talking to us about dealing with this. It hurts. We've lost a leader, but not doing something that is going to be damaging or to be disrespectful to what Reverend King, Dr. King stood for. But it was a very sad, sad day. It's sad as I remember it. It's sad when we commemorate or celebrate his birth or death, today. I remember what coverage you did see on TV, what was happening in Detroit and other places. I can remember seeing Roy Wilkins[?] and others saying, "Let's not burn. Let's not destroy. That's not being respectful of what Dr. King stood for." But it hurt. It hurt.

We as young people in that community were beginning to see our difference. We were different. As I said, we grew up in protected communities, and protected in the sense of our families, our churches, our schools, our neighbors. I daresay that that was done wherever it could be in the black community. You know we had to--. We existed because we supported each other. We did business with each other and what have you, so you had that safety net there. But we were coming of age and as any person would be as a teenager, knowing not only who you are but the world you live in. And maybe understanding that world. Understanding that there was a black and white America. That seeing Willie Mayes and Hank Aaron on TV on Saturday--that was a battle that they were fighting. They just weren't hitting baseballs. There was a different America. There was a black America and a white America, and we were going to have to exist in that America. We were going to have to exist, hopefully with the spirit of King and others that were trying to make America better. And then we, because we were being educated, we had a role to play in making it happen. But, to specifically answer, those were dark days. It was like, just culture shock. It sounded more to us about how much was wrong with America. Not too long after, I mean, hearing that Kennedy had been shot. Was America sick? Did we have a future? The Vietnam War was still out there. It was not just automatic that when you graduated from high school, you were going to college. We were all intending to make some preparation beyond high school. I can remember my parents being concerned, as all parents were concerned, what is there for your child beyond high school? Not just as any challenge but because of America being a very violent stage right then. Very, very difficult times. I say they were difficult. Now we were not Selma. We were not one of the places on the violent side of the forefront. But we were part of black America, living in white America, that had to face those realities.

Williams: Dr. Burton, let me kind of get back just a little bit. What important role do you think the barber shop conversations played in terms of, how did it impact the community? What was its importance?

Burton: Well, as a meeting place, we had different ministers that would come to get their hair cut or people bringing their shoes in or sometimes could just come to sit and listen. Come to sit and talk. And you heard, I remember, I'm recalling some names, now. Reverend Macmillan[?] who was a heavyset preacher, a Reverend Thomas who were vocal, who were sort of out front, and sort of took the leftist position. Maybe not the extreme left, and they would talk about it. You know, what we need to do. I would sit there and I'd listen, how blacks need to be more mobilized and I can remember Reverend King, Dr. King coming to Vicksburg, and I think speaking at King Solomon Church one time. I may be wrong, but I--. How packed it was and how much concern there was about him coming there. But, you know, surely that barber shop, shoe shop, like perhaps other places across Vicksburg, you had the dialogue. You had the conversation piece. You had the folks talking about what was happening there to each other.

And, you know, we had the influx of COFO and some others coming into Vicksburg, as they did other parts of Mississippi, and meetings held in some churches. People being very careful about going to those. Going, but being, you know, when it's over, just--. You hear about people in bombings and people being in disappearance[s], and they talk about that. They talk about how Vicksburg was mobilized and maybe in some times in some ways not as outward as these other places of the South, but still moving toward helping to make Mississippi better. Helping to make Vicksburg better by getting their fair share, getting their recognition, by the leaders that led Vicksburg. I can remember, I don't recall exactly what years, it was either sixty-eight or sixty-nine, maybe in the early nineteen seventies, there was a protest effort in Vicksburg. A boycott by students. We had a person there who, he was from Vicksburg, but he tried to emulate Jessie Jackson, his name was McBride[?], Reverend McBride.

Williams: Eddie McBride.

Burton: Eddie McBride. He tried to emulate him. He tried to talk like him. He dressed like him. He was very vocal and some of our traditional leadership in Vicksburg, maybe didn't embrace him, but some of the NAACP style of dealing with the issues may have differed from his, but there was at least, I think, a consensus that a boycott needed to take place in Vicksburg. That things were, again, in maybe sixty-nine, early seventy, maybe somewhere along there, and I was in college then. I wanted to get more involved, and I can remember, they were boycotting stores on Washington Street. And my father, remember he was self-employed and I can remember sitting at our little dining room table in our house, my dad and mom's house, and we talked about it. My mom worked at the Valley Department Store. At first, she was concerned, first about our well-being. These young people who wanted to be in that protest. But also that she might lose her job because they were boycotting the Valley Department Store, and my dad, who was always [aware of] the threat of somebody coming to bomb his place, and I can remember that there was a concern, but I can remember one discussion with my mom and dad, they must have talked and prayed over it. They told me, in essence, "Be careful, but go ahead and participate. But be careful." And, as much as we needed both incomes, if it happened that my mom lost her job, it was an unfortunate consequence. And I respected that. I also wondered, I said, "How could I be effective in this effort, this boycott, this protest in Vicksburg without damaging my parents?" And I was able to use a tool that was a quality I guess that maybe to this day is one of my strong points, and that's the ability to write. And I became the editor of what we called our newspaper, our voice.

Williams: What was the title of that?

Burton: I'm sorry. I can't remember, but--.

Williams: Do you have any old copies?

Burton: I wish I did. (Laughter.) You might find McBride and see if he has any.

Williams: You know Eddie McBride is running for mayor in, was that Lake Providence?

Burton: I don't know where he is right now.

Williams: He's in Louisiana.

Burton: We didn't keep too close, but there was a pretty sizeable movement, and I got the duty of being and (inaudible) the challenge, I mean the opportunity to go and write this, to put these messages together.

Williams: Who, what organization? Eddie McBride. What, did you have a--.

Burton: (Inaudible) the name of it. I'm sorry.

Williams: Was it part of COFO?

Burton: There was a coalition, but it was not COFO. It was a coalition of different groups, and the boycott was, to a degree, successful, and it lasted several months.

Williams: Why were you boycotting?

Burton: Because of the treatment of blacks in the stores, because of just kind of escalating issues of moving even into desegregation of the schools. I mean Mississippi, you know you had the fifty-four decision; it was the early seventies, mid-seventies when Mississippi even got--. I can't remember when. Temple High was probably seventy-four. Seventy-three or seventy-four when integration came to Temple. But all these were just escalating issues that the community as a whole was tired and caught up into the whole South movement of speaking up, speaking out, demanding fair treatment. And you can imagine in Mississippi, you had, across the state, you had burnings, cross burnings, and shootings, and all that, and so Vicksburg, being part of Mississippi, was aware of those things, and aware of its own local issues, and having some way to speak out, speak against this. But McBride was the key figure, and he did the fiery speeches, and we did the boycott. We got the messages out. We had the rallies, and I felt good about it. And my mom didn't lose her job. (Laughter.) And, but that's something that, in fact, did take place.

Well, you know, we were talking about the protest movement. One thing I'd like to share of the beginning of my formative years, and I think people just had an impact on my life and feel my parents and my father, as I indicated earlier, he wasn't a person of very overt action, but he was very strong-willed, and he believed in self-respect and respecting others. To operate the businesses he had, the shoe repair and barber shop, it's a humbling business. You have to respect others, and he taught me that, and he taught me all the attributes of it. He was successful because of others that thought that he could do good business and he treated his customers right. And it's a lasting impact. And also about the work ethic. You make a dollar; you earn it. You're your own boss. You don't punch anybody's clock. I remember him telling me, you know, not in any disrespectful way of others who worked for other professions, you know, mail carriers and school teachers or whatever their work was. He said, "Here, son, if I don't get up with the attitude that I must get to work, I must work hard, then there is no food on the table. There's no clothes on your back. There's no way to support you to do this and support the family. I must push myself."

Williams: Dr. Burton, let me ask you this, and then I'm going to let you go for part one. I first discovered the Burton Shoe Shop advertisement in The Vicksburg Citizens' Appeal which was, Eddie Thomas was the president of it and Dr. Ollye Shirley was the editor, and I understand that they had some COFO folks, some of the students from up North to help work on the paper, but who made the decision to put Otha Burton Shoe Shop in the civil rights paper?

Burton: He. He, himself. He saw, evidently, a value to do it. My father was a member of the, he was a Mason, he was a member of the Esquire Club, and these were--. He was an Elk member, so there was an interaction of all segments of people and there was no disrespect in being a shoe fixer. In fact, he taught me a lot of pride. And so he, as a business person, his support of that.

Williams: Were there ever any threats directed at your father or your family?

Burton: No, not that I know of. I remember later, much later in life--. Most people you ask would view my father as a very mild-mannered person. He treated people with respect, but I can remember some friends of my dad telling me, in fact, some of my uncles were telling me that one time there was an incident that happened back up in Starkville to one of his brothers and some white people got after him. My father's sport was hunting. He was a great hunter. He and some of his friends up in Kings and down Highway 27 liked to go deer hunting, and whatever, and he was a great marksman. And that was his only, outside of, you know, the membership in the Masons and other (inaudible), he would do that. And I can remember, they said something happened, and they told me. I don't remember this happening, but they say my dad loaded up all of his hunting rifles, put them in the back of his car and headed toward Starkville. His family was threatened. That's the kind of person he was. And if he felt the cause was worthy, he'd take a stand. He would take it in the way that he thought was most appropriate. But you asked me. He obviously saw a need and he would often talk about the black race, you know, and it was almost as if he was just passing things on. This was [in] one-on-one father-son conversations. We could do a lot of that in the barber shop, and shoe shop in particular, late in the evening, when there's nobody there but you all. And he talked about how at times it was a shame we didn't support each other. We could have done a lot more if we would have just rallied around each other. Beyond just the safe environments that we had, but branching out into the new arena, this integration, this inclusion. We didn't call it so much inclusion, then. At a young age, I didn't know a whole lot about DuBois, [and] Booker T. except for that Negro history day at the time, but these were things that we needed to embrace more as a people and they became rallying points for the civil rights movement. If we're going to advance, we've got to support each other. We're beginning to elect black mayors, and black elected officials. Surely in Mississippi and across the country. I think from a business standpoint, we suffered from integration. We forgot how to support each other. In a segregated, separate society, we did. We had no other choice.

Williams: Dr. Burton, I want to thank you for sitting down and providing this very important information, and I think I got your promise that you are going to allow me to do a part two, where we'll talk a little bit more about activities in Vicksburg and I'm going to make sure that I have that list of names. Prior to the second part, I will get that list of names to you. And once again, I just want to thank you for taking time out of your busy schedule and providing this important historical information about the Vicksburg movement.

(End of the interview.)


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The University of Southern Mississippi | Last updated
25 October 2003 3:37 PM AA/EOE/ADAI