Otha Burton Jr.
was transcribed as part of the Civil Rights Documentation
Funding for this
project was provided in part by the Mississippi
the National Endowment for the Humanities, and
Department of Archives and History.
Dr. 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.
Higher education 2
Working in father's shoe and
barber shop 4
Early childhood 5
Education in public elementary
Dr. Martin Luther King 10
Reverend Eddie McBride 11
Vicksburg Citizens' Appeal
Importance of African-American
AN ORAL HISTORY
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.
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, basically--. I'm going to just cut this off.
(There is a brief interruption
in the tape.)
Burton, Otha, O-?
(A segment regarding scheduling
of the interview is not included in this typed transcript.)
is your date of birth?
you were born where?
OK. Have you ever--? Well, of course, you've lived in Jackson,
but have you lived anyplace else outside of Vicksburg?
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.
never been in the Army, or nothing like that?
how did you get around that Vietnam thing, because it looks
like you'd have been just about ready for Vietnam.
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.
what school did you attend in Vicksburg?
school at McIntyre[?]; high school at Temple High.
Temple. And when did you graduate from Temple High School?
sixty-eight. Was it integrated at that time?
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.
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.
that Ph.D. is in?
when did you earn your Ph.D?
you know Dr. Donald Trainmen[?]?
He chaired my dissertation.
well, we've got some connections then. I was with Dr. (inaudible)
over at Texas Southern University.
right. Well, I know him well.
Tell him that you met Don Williams and a friend of Dr. Bobby
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.
Great. Great. Fantastic. So, you are presently the--
administrative officer for the city of Jackson.
And you've been that since when?
last year. Been in this capacity a little over a year.
Now, what church did you attend while you were in Vicksburg?
It's now Wesley United Methodist Church.
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?
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.
where are they?
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.
Now, what period of time would you say this is, your exposure
in the barber shop and the shoe shop?
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.
I'd say late fifties and started working on a regular basis
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?
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
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.
you remember some of the teachers' names that highly impacted
you or influenced you in any kind of way?
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.
when you remember her, what do you think about her?
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.
were some of those folks?
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.
you name some of those students and what they've done?
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.
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--.
you're going to--. That's why I wish you had your list here.
It's been a while, but--.
Clay, Eddie Thomas.
Eddie Thomas. There was one person--.
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.
a sad situation, because I should know that. We'll insert
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.
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.
what year was this?
I can't remember. It had to be somewhere, sixty-four, sixty-eight.
How did people respond?
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
Of course, when I graduated,
sixty-eight is when Dr. King was assassinated, and it was--.
tell me what was the response to that?
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.)
Dr. King's assassination occurred, what was the response of
your fellow students, your peer group at Temple?
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.
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?
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.
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,
was the title of that?
sorry. I can't remember, but--.
you have any old copies?
Burton: I wish
I did. (Laughter.) You might find McBride and see if he has
know Eddie McBride is running for mayor in, was that Lake
Burton: I don't
know where he is right now.
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
what organization? Eddie McBride. What, did you have a--.
the name of it. I'm sorry.
it part of COFO?
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.
were you boycotting?
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."
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?
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
there ever any threats directed at your father or your family?
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.
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.)