An Oral History


Georgia Clark

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.




Mrs. Georgia Clark was born on May 10, 1923, in Durant, Mississippi, in Holmes County. Her family of origin consisted of her mother Lizzie Bess Flowers, her father George Washington Greer, four sisters, and five brothers. The family sharecropped and worked on halves for a living. Eventually Mr. Greer was able to acquire his own land, on which Mrs. Clark presently resides.

After marrying at the age of sixteen, Mrs. Clark gave birth to two sons and five daughters; one son was a stillbirth. Presently her other six children are still living.

Mrs. Clark has worked as a domestic helper. She registered to vote in 1964, and she became active in assisting others to register. She assisted in several boycotts in Lexington, Mississippi, for which she was once arrested. In the midsixties, Mrs. Clark's high school-age children integrated Durant High School.

Mrs. Clark is a member of the National Council of Negro Women. She has served as the election commissioner of Holmes County, district two, since 1977. She is a member of West Missionary Baptist Church.

Table of Contents

Childhood 1

Sharecropping 2

Education 4

Domestic work 5

Voter registration 8

Eddie Knowle 10

Police violence 12

Boycott 15

Arrested while picketing 16

Integration of schools 18

Inc. Fund Attorney Mel Leventhal 21

Freedom Democratic Party 27

National Council of Negro Women 27

Election commissioner, district two, Holmes County 28




This is an interview for the Civil Rights Documentation Project. The interview is with Georgia Clark and is taking place on October 7, 1999. The interviewer is Harriet Tanzman.

Tanzman: This is Harriet Tanzman. I'm doing an interview with Mrs. Georgia Clark from Holmes County, Mississippi at her home in West, Mississippi, for the University of Southern Mississippi Oral History Center. Could you tell us a little about your early life? Where you were born and what date and about your parents.

Clark: Well, I was born in rural Durant, Mississippi, in Holmes County. I was born on May 10, 1923. And, it was, like I say, five girls out of two marriages. I had four sisters and five brothers, so, we were reared up on the farm. As far as when I first remember myself and my family very well, I was about three years old, and we lived down on, they called, the Harvey Bristol[?] place on the creek. And it was during the 1927 flood, I can remember so well. The water came on up on our porch, from the creek, across the asparagus patch, and so we played out there, and, eventually, I kept dancing around on the porch until I went off in a tub of water, sitting outside. They said, "I guess you will sit down now!" (Laughter.) But it was just so funny until I slipped off in that water, but I tell you, I come out hollering. (Laughter.)

My mama said, "What's ailing you?"

And they all hollered, "She fell in the tub."

And she say, "Well, maybe that's where she needed to be, in the tub."

Tanzman: What were your parents' names?

Clark: My father was George Washington Greer[?], and he was married to Effie Brown Greer[?] at first. And then he and she separated, and he married my mom, Lizzie Bess Flowers[?]. So, then, they were just like sisters, my mom and the other children's mom, Daddy's other wife. They all come together. And my Aunt Elizabeth[?], his sister, they would come together and us make a feast. It didn't even have to be Easter or Christmas or nothing. They would just meet up and cook. They'd say, "Put the little pot in the big one." And we would just eat till it just looked like eating was going out of style. I mean, we really had enough food, whatever it was. It didn't have to be cake and pie and chicken all the time, but they would sometimes include a cake or pie or apple pie or pear pie or peach pie, peach cobblers. We just had plenty to eat. From one house to the other.

Tanzman: Were you living on the land of a white man?

Clark: Yes, we were living, what we called, on the plantation. And the first, like I said, the first place we lived that I could recall that we lived on, and I wasn't born on that one. I was born on the Bob Montgomery Plantation about maybe, two miles from where we were living at that time, and we moved with Mr. Harvey Bristol[?], and he (inaudible) and we talked and one time after when we moved from the little house down on the creek, we went up on the hill, I called it. Up on the public road. The road that takes you over to the Harmony School. That's where the whites went. The black kids had to walk to West, which was about five miles from--. It was about five miles, just about five miles, from where we were living then, on the hill.

Tanzman: Did you go to school just part of the year?

Clark: Well, yes they had, like they call it, sessions. You know, you divide the time up, like maybe five months you would go to school, and the other part of the time, if you wasn't big enough to cut briars, you carried water for the one that was cutting the briars and the bushes to prepare for the field work.

Tanzman: Were your parents sharecroppers?

Clark: Yes, they were sharecroppers for a while and then after later on, I mean, they called it, they worked on halves. But they first were like sharecroppers and what we called the boss man, he would give them an issue. Or issue an order for what you needed to, you know, do the crop on. So, we'd go to town. Oh, we all thought we were something, then, when we'd get ready. Daddy would let us ride in the wagon to go to town, and buy the food, sometimes. And he would get, sometimes, he'd get like a half a barrel of flour, and then get so much corn to take to the grist mill. We had a grist mill in West, grinding up your own meal.

Tanzman: Did you grow your own vegetables?

Clark: Oh, yeah, I always had a big garden and raised (inaudible) cabbages, big as your head and English peas (inaudible). You could plant them early and they'd, you know, come off maybe like April. They'd be ready to eat.

Tanzman: Did your family ever come to own land?

Clark: Yes.

Tanzman: How old were you?

Clark: (Laughter.) I was grown. I was grown. I called myself really grown. I was about sixteen. Just fifteen or sixteen when we learned that Daddy had some land of his own, which is this place where we're living now. And that was in 1939, or forty. And so anyway, he had cut wood all day that day. Had him a little, he liked to call peach brandy, but he had him some pear brandy. So he had kept nipping on it, and nipping on it, so that night when he went to bed, and then he got up. And he just stretched his arms, like that, and he hit the floor, and we couldn't see not nothing moving. No breathing at all, and we actually thought he was dead. And we started running around the house, hollering, and going on. My sister looked up on the mantel and found some Salone[?] Liniments. She just run it by his nose, and he took a great big breath and roused up and said, "What's happening? What's the matter with y'all?" So, then that's when we found out that he owned land. He had bought it unbeknownst to us and my mom. Hadn't told her about it. Well, then that night he told her about it so if anything happened to him that we owned two, three acres of land over on the Frank Green's place. And then, that year we finished living where we was. After he and Jack--. Well, Jack. He had hired Jack to cut the wood with him. He was not my husband at that time. He was my boyfriend, and so he had hired him to help him cut wood.

Then he fell out, and we didn't know. And Jack told us, "Well, he had been nipping on that little pear brandy all day. Maybe that's what was wrong with him." So, but anyhow he came back to and he told Mama about the land and then the next year after that, some people come to rent that building that we were living in. He was trying to move in before we could move out.

Tanzman: This is the place that you owned? The land that you owned or were sharecropping?

Clark: (A portion of the tape is inaudible.) And then we moved from there just across the fence on to the Nathan Orris[?] Plantation. And so then, I think, by that time, Dad was working on halves. (Inaudible) two older brothers, that Dad kept two boys and one girl at the time he and his other wife separated, and it was just two of us by my mom's side. And so anyhow, the brothers had gotten married. One had left with the Highway 51, when they was building Highway 51 way up in Union, Mississippi, with the highway. And my older brothers, all the brothers, worked out there, except one, and he was too little, because they took the next to the youngest one, he was the water boy. So, the baby didn't have nothing he could do on the highway, so then, they hired them all out there, and they had different jobs, helping to lay the platform for the cement and all of that. And then my second brother, he left. That's when he left and went to Union, when the highway pulled up and left and went to Union, Mississippi, with the construction.

Tanzman: How was the schooling when you were going to the school? Did you have to walk to the school? And did they have supplies? Or what was it like?

Clark: Well, I walked like four and a half miles a day, going and coming. At least, they walked, but, when I got--. Mama didn't let me go to school until I was about nine years old, and my brother Willie, the second brother, he would hold my hand. I didn't walk, I slid. If I fell down, he didn't stop; he just kept dragging me right on to school. He meant that I was going to get there on time. He'd say [that] I wasn't going to make him late, and he didn't give me time to get late. He say, "Come on, girl." And he just kept dragging me! (Laughter.) By the time I'd get to school, my socks would sometimes look like the ground because he had dragged me all the way. When we got off of the concrete highway, then he had dragged me on up the hill through the grass and stuff.

Tanzman: He was much bigger, so he wanted you to keep up.

Clark: Right. And he wasn't going to let me get behind and try to run to keep up with him because I was going to run longer than him because (inaudible) steady running right beside him.

Tanzman: Was it a one-room schoolhouse?

Clark: No, I imagine there was about four or five rooms. As far as I can remember. I know because there were like five teachers at that school, as far as I can remember, (inaudible) principal. And each teacher had their own room. So it was about a five-room school by the time I started to school, but I think my older sister and my older brother, they went to the one-room school.

Tanzman: How far did you go in the school?

Clark: Well, I went to the eighth grade. I didn't complete it. I went to the eighth grade in school.

Tanzman: And you met your husband somewhere?

Clark: Well, he was in school, too, at times, part of the times, but he would come to school and bring (inaudible) and candy and different things to snack on and go back to his little job. He had a little job down (inaudible), so his mom had allowed him to drop out and go to work.

Tanzman: And you got married in your teens?

Clark: I was sixteen, and he was nineteen when we got married. We was both going to the same school and some days he would walk me back home from school. And there was another girl he was liking in between my house and the school, so he would run her home all the way. He would run all the way trying to catch up with her, and then after he'd catch up, he'd run her up in the yard where her daddy was, and he'd holler at him and make him go back. Then, he would turn around, and come on, and walk me home, then.

Tanzman: He was interested in you. What kind of work did you do when you and your husband, when you did get married?

Clark: Well, when we got married, when I got married, well, he was already working in the logging business, and he was getting up going from can to can't. He got up before day. It was too dark to see out there when he left, and it was certainly too dark to see how to get back, almost, when he come back in. And I was just--. Well, shortly after that, we had the baby, and then I stayed home and tended to the baby until he got maybe like five or six months old. Then, I started to work for a lady, and she was paying a dollar and a quarter a week.

Tanzman: In her home?

Clark: I was working in her home, and I--.

Tanzman: This was the thirties.

Clark: Well, forties. Yeah, that was in the forties. And so, we had moved away one time after my daughter, the oldest daughter was born. We always was back at home for the babies to be born. I mean, by the doctor or the midwife. Never went to the hospital until maybe like the fourth child.

Tanzman: You have how many children?

Clark: I have one son and five daughters living. We had one miscarriage which the doctor said was a boy, so, we only have the one son and the five daughters. And they're all living.

Tanzman: And so you did work in homes. Was that a typical kind of wage? One fifty, two dollars a week?

Clark: Well, I never knew anyone else was paying as low as this lady, but she said she was paying more than anybody else in town. I told her she weren't. And she said she didn't know how I figured I knew. I told her because my sister-in-law, my oldest brother's wife was working for another lady living right downtown, down in West. And she was paying her $3 a week, and I was getting a dollar and a quarter a week. And so, I told her, "Well, how much difference was that?"

And she said, "Well, I don't believe it. I don't believe it."

I said, "Well, it's true." And then, I was getting ready to quit then, because I was tired of her always had something to yaw about and wasn't paying nothing already. So, when I told her I was going home; I was going to quit, she told me, she said, "You can't quit because Jack said he ain't going to take care of you and that baby."

I said, "I don't believe Jack said that." I said, "But, if he did, ma'am, I know one thing. I lived before I knew you or Jack." I said, "I can go back home if I want to." I said, "But since I'm grown, I think I'll just go on and get me a job, worthwhile."

She said, "You've got the best job in town." So, I left. She cried, and I cried. I cried because I couldn't tell her what I wanted to tell her. So then, I came home.

She said, "Well, if I need you, would you come back and help me sometime if you ain't got nothing else or if you haven't found that good job you're looking for?"

I said, "I don't know. I might and I might not." So eventually, one day, her husband was working away. He came home. He came down the hill singing "The Old Chip on the Block," or something. But I saw him coming, and wasn't nobody at home. I had came over to my mom's house. I was living over what they call the Charles [pause]-- oh my goodness--Pearson[?] House, and they always called it a haunted house, and we had some experiences there. Because one time when my husband [was] away, and he hadn't came home off of work, but I supposed to had supper done. I had come by my mom's. She would keep the baby while I was working for the lady for the dollar and the quarter. So I came and got the baby and went home. He said, "If you would just be at home one evening with the baby, then, I wouldn't have to come way over to your mama's house to pick up y'all when I do get off of work way in the night. I could eat and go to sleep." So, this particular night, I was going to have the supper done. I laid the baby, thought he was asleep, laid him down, and I went in the kitchen and started to making the fire. We had a wood stove, and I started to making the fire in the stove, and my hair started rising on my head, and the baby started hollering and yelling, and I couldn't see nothing wrong with him. And we just kept looking and trying to find out what's the trouble, but we never did find out what the trouble was. And an old, old lady, Aunt May Brown[?], was staying in one end of the house. She just kept telling, "Honey, give him this. Give him that. Brown some flour. Stir it up with some water. Give it to him. He just got the stomachache." So, then when my husband come, he was still hollering. I was sitting there holding him. Hadn't cooked no supper. Hadn't even got the fire started in the stove.

He said, "Why you ain't cooked?"

I said, "Because, something scared the baby, and I don't know what it is. I don't know what's wrong with him."

So he said, "Well, maybe he's sick." So we then took off. He said, "I'll carry him over there, see--. Let's carry him over there, see what Mama Lizzie[?] say about him." We came across the hill, and he said, "Well, we might as well take this bed on over there because I'm going to sleep when I get there. I ain't going to walk back over here with the baby, toting him." He said, "We'll just take this bed on." So we carried the bed on and got to the door, and we called Mama, and he hollered all the way across the hill, and when we got to the door and Mama answered, he hushed and just starting grinning. Jack said, "Boy, I could spank your tail. You're just hollering like you were dying or something and here ain't nothing wrong with you, just want to see your grandmaw, and you're going to stay with her from now on." (Laughter.)

Tanzman: He was very close to her.

Clark: So, he did, mostly, stay. Off and on, he would stay with my mom. Well, later on we moved after Lizerene[?], after Darrel[?] was born. Then we moved over on what they called the Green Camp[?] and that's when he got started to work for the man that owned the Green Camps, G.D. Thornton[?]. So, they both, the kids worried me so. Lizerene was the holleringest baby. I have never saw a child holler any more. Sonny hollered loud and clear that one night to get back over to Grandmaw's, but Lizerene would holler every day, all day, just about it, and I didn't ever know hardly when she slept because I didn't get any sleep, hardly. So, it snowed. And they always were cut off, you know. They couldn't work at the sawmill when the snow was on the ground. So, they went up that day to feed the horses and the mules and my mother-in-law, Jack's mother, came over and got the babies, and she was going to keep them a while and let me rest. I went to sleep and I slept so hard, Jack had came in, knocked the door down, and come all the way through the house calling for me, and I looked up at him, "What? What do you want?"

He said, "Girl, I been all through this house, and didn't know what was ailing you. I thought you had died."

I said, "I did, die off to sleep, I guess. I went on off to sleep."

He said, "Well, you sure was sleeping."

I said, "Mama Carrie[?] got the babies and carried them over there, and I climbed in the bed and I just went to sleep, because I hadn't had no sleep for I don't know how long." Because that little, hollering girl, she wouldn't even have a bottle. You couldn't give her a bottle. She'd take it and throw it down. And Sonny, he was so glad she threw it down. He would just get it and just walk all across the floor with it. (Laughter.) Turn it up, and he'd suck the milk out of it, and then he'd put it down. But she would eat a slice of bread before she would suck a bottle. I assumed I didn't have enough milk, you know, wasn't giving enough milk for her because she would just gnaw, gnaw, gnaw all day, if you let her suck on the breast. She would just gnaw, gnaw, gnaw. And then, time you make her leave it alone, she'd go to hollering.

Tanzman: Well, Mrs. Clark, I know this is a leap, but we're going to begin to get into the movement, (laughter) and I'm wondering, in Holmes County, which was such a strong county in the movement, how did you first become involved, and when was that?

Clark: Well, I just hardly know where I came in on it, but anyway.

Tanzman: When did you first try to vote?

Clark: First I knew about what they called the civil rights and the movement, some boys came to our house in, I believe it was sixty-three. So they asked us if we wanted to get registered to vote, and we told them, "No. Not yet." So, my dad, you know he always [said] don't be fooling with everything come along. And so, he didn't want us to, you know, (inaudible) register to vote, so--.

Tanzman: Both you and your husband said that?

Clark: Well, my husband was off at work, probably, in the Army. No, he wasn't in the Army in sixty-three, because he had came back, came out the Army in forty-eight. (A portion of the tape is inaudible.) So, anyway, Dad say, "Y'all better know what you're doing."

So, all the people at the churches and places, they was scared for the people to come and you know, to talk about the civil rights, because they said, "Y'all church going to get burned down."

So, I just kept on thinking, "Well, they ain't burned up them folk where they are staying and why don't we go, you know, and see what it's like?" So, I think I went on and [it was] maybe like sixty-five I believe, when I got registered. Then I was going around trying to get everybody else registered that I could.

Tanzman: Were you beginning to go to meetings in sixty-three, sixty-four? Was that with SNCC?

Clark: Like sixty-four, probably, I got started to going to the meetings. They were having the meetings out to Ms. Annie B. Green's[?].

Tanzman: In her home?

Clark: In her home.

Tanzman: In West?

Clark: In West. Out in Long Branch area. So, Ms. Hodderson[?], Ms. Bobby Hodderson, she was going. Ms. Earis McGee[?] and Alton[?], and they were husband and wife and (inaudible) was Bobby's brother. So, they would go and like they was trying to get, get the Head Start in. So, what they would do, they would ask you to cook a cake, and if you cooked a cake, you had to stay and serve it. Well, of course, my husband wanted me to take the cake (inaudible) for me to just go on back home.

Tanzman: Was the cake for fund-raising for Head Start? CDGM?

Clark: Well, yes, like, I guess they sold the cake or sometime they would give it, you know, just give it out to get the people to come. You know, just have a little social, like eating cake or ice cream, or whatever, but sometimes they did sell it for, you know, so much a slice, but I carried the cake that day, and I said, that night, and I was getting ready to go, and they said, "No, you have to stay and serve the cake. You brought it." So, I stayed and served the cake. So, then they talked about, you know, the people that came down and helped us, you know, get our rights. And so, they'd have the meeting, like, every, I believe every Wednesday night, once a week, every Wednesday night.

Tanzman: Was that the Mississippi summer when people came from the North to come down and stayed in people's homes?

Clark: Yeah. That was along in that time. They were, you know, staying out, in old Pilgrim's Rest[?], they were, some of them were staying with Jody Saffold Sr. and Jr.[?], and some were staying with Lank Williams[?]. Some at Johnny B. Knowle's[?] and Leo Ellis[?]. They were staying at their house because this was Leo Ellis's boy that came with some more people to our house in sixty-three, trying to get us to register then. And they were staying out there. So, just kept on, and I kept going to this meeting (inaudible). They talked us up and, "Why don't you go and register? See what they say to you?" And people were telling about how Henry McClellan the circuit clerk, how he was intimidating people. When you get there wanting to register, he would ask how many bubbles in a bar of soap, and if you couldn't answer that, you couldn't, you didn't know how to get registered. And how many seeds in a watermelon? All that different stuff. And so, eventually--.

Tanzman: This was the test, right?

Clark: Yeah, that was the test you had to take. So, but anyhow, then they had the federal people came and they were down up under the post office building, and then that's when I went. I think that was sixty-five, they were helping the people get registered, because they had had so many problems trying to register with people asking them about the bubbles in the soap and the seeds in the watermelons and different other foolish things. And they had put the dogs on people out, when they were on the court lawn with the first people that had tried to register. They had put the police dogs on them. And so, well, that kind of scared people, you know, and they kind of hung back a little bit, but shortly after when they brought the federal people down up under the post office, well, they wasn't asking you all these different, silly questions, so that's when I went, and then I got my husband and got him registered. Took, you know, just a lot of people in the neighborhood. All the folks round that want registered; I was taking them, busily taking them back and forth, and so.

Tanzman: A lot fewer of them were afraid after the Voting Rights Act when the federal people came?

Clark: Yeah, they still was afraid, but then, I mean, you know after, well, I guess they thought, "Well, she went and they ain't nothing happened to her." So then, you know, they just got started to going. They got more, you know, enlightened to it. So they started coming frequently, you know, letting me take them to get registered.

Tanzman: Did you have any reprisals from trying to vote? Any economic or threats or anything?

Clark: No, I didn't have no problems. Like I said, after the federal people came, and you know, we went down under there and got registered only after we came from over there in Mr. (inaudible). (A portion of the tape is inaudible.) When he got shot, Eddie Knowle thing was going on down in the Ebenezer area, when they aroused Eddie Knowle over there at the little country store. He was playing the guitar or some kind of music.

Tanzman: Who was Eddie Knowle?

Clark: Well, he was related to Representative Clark and them. He was just a guy out of the Army, and he was a sharpshooter. And so, he was--.

Tanzman: A black guy.

Clark: A black guy, you know, like, hanging around the country store, and while he'd hang around the country store, he would play music and then the whites started picking at him. And so, he was a real sharpshooter. So, they picked at him this particular night and wanted to, you know, jump on him or lynch him, do something to him. So, he made a getaway, and he, in a barn, and they went and hunted him down, and they hunted him down, claimed he had did something. And he hadn't did anything, the people say, but was playing that music, and the people be round there dancing and, you know, having a good time off of the music. So, they got up a big thing off of it, and he ran and hid and hid out. And then Andrew Smith[?] got shot in the mouth. I guess he carried that bullet on to the grave with him.

Tanzman: The sheriff?

Clark: The sheriff. He got shot, and then they had--. I mean, the deputy sheriff, I think, was named Mr. Byrd[?]. I think he got killed. I mean, you know, they just had a massacre out in it. Just different people got shot. Some of them got killed.

Tanzman: This is after--. Did they arrest Eddie Knowle or did they--?

Clark: Well, they were trying to. I guess, they finally arrested him. They were trying to arrest him then. They hadn't arrested him I don't think. (Inaudible) he had broke away because he was, you know, able to shoot everybody come up there.

Tanzman: Well, did he actually shoot the sheriff and the deputy or they accused him of that or no?

Clark: He shot them. He actually shot them, and meant to. And he, you know, he was just getting rid of them because they were coming and aggravating him and trying to arrest him and bother him for nothing, so he didn't let nobody up on him. As fast as they came, he shot them down, and then they were going around, like, people in town, and they were saying, "We're going down there and help them catch that nigger. (Inaudible) going around killing up and shooting up folks like that. And I'll get my rifle, and I'll go down there, and I'll do--."

Some of them told them, said, "I'll tell you one thing. That nigger ain't bothering me, and I ain't going down there bothering him, neither."

And so one man said, "Yeah."

They said, "Where you going this morning?"

"I'm going down there and help them catch that Eddie Knowle."

Tanzman: What happened? Did they go get him?

Clark: "You go ahead." So, I don't [know] that this person from West go, but I know this one said that he wasn't going. He didn't never show up on his way down there. He said that nigger wasn't bothering him, and he wasn't going down there bothering with it. Said, "Maybe they wouldn't have never got shot and killed if they had left him alone."

Tanzman: What happened to Knowle?

Clark: Well, he eventually got caught, and they put him in the prison, and he stayed for, you know, a long time. A good long while and you know he was a--. Well, I guess they got him out somehow, and they sent him North, but he died up North, somewhere. But I see, you know, his wife, his widow, now. Every once in awhile she comes (inaudible), but she says she could just stick a match up in her hair, and he would strike that match with his rifle. I told her I wouldn't have been standing there waiting for him to strike that match out of my hair. You know, she said she could just stick that match, or hairpin, or anything, and he could stand way back off out there somewhere and just shoot it right out of her hair without touching (inaudible). But I wouldn't have been risking it.

Tanzman: So, I know one thing that happened recurrently was violence against people both in the jail and police violence and so on. Was that one of the issues that the Freedom Democratic Party and the local movement took on, and when was that? And what did we do?

Clark: Yes, well, I mean, you know, they was always [the] kind of people that believed in kind of preying upon black folks because I recall way back I was kind of small girl, and we would walk to town or ride the wagon and get out and walk uptown, because we didn't want nobody to see us in the wagon. And we'd, you know, just come to town and kind of stand around, all the girls and boys would meet uptown and kind of, you know, associate with each other, and it was a boy lived across the river and the policeman, the chief of police, or the mayor, or whatever he was named at that time, his name was Mr. Aaron Hissem[?]. So, this boy, his daddy had bought him a practically new Model A car, so he just passed Mr. Aaron on his way to town. Mr. Aaron was going along. He was ahead of him. He just, you know, just cut around him and came on to town, and when Mr. Aaron got to town, he went into his brother-in-law's store, Mr. Merley Tate[?], got an axe handle and just split that boy's head. Said, "Ain't you got no better sense? You don't know no better than that? To go around the sheriff or the police?"

And he said, "I wasn't calling myself doing nothing smart. I was just going to town." So, he just (inaudible), just cut his head with that axe handle. So, that was just, been their way of beating up on blacks, whenever they thought they didn't act like they thought they ought to act.

Tanzman: Can you tell me something about your husband's (inaudible)?

Clark: Yeah. So, went on and on, you know, in different cases, where they just always beat up on some black guy. I recall Mr. Bouchillon was the police of West. So, (inaudible) Wade's brother, he had been in the Navy. He came back out the Navy and Mr. Bouchillon got in behind him, made him jump in the river. He jumped in the Big Black River and swam. That's how he got out of his way. And they just didn't like Negroes. I mean, even my husband had a concussion on his head where he and three other boys, they came out the Army, and they went to Durant and while they were getting off the bus, the police met them there and locked them up after beating them up.

Tanzman: This was when they were coming home from the Army, in their uniforms?

Clark: They had came home and was in their uniform and went to Durant, and they didn't allow you to wear your uniform. They, "You think you something, nigger. You been in the Army."

Tanzman: "Let's beat them up."

Clark: Yeah. "Let's beat them up." So, I had to go down there and see about him.

Tanzman: And how did the--?

Clark: And so then, they done this on and on, but this time when he come back, my husband's cousin, he worked down at the co-op, I believe. He was working at the co-op and he worked with a Pete, I believe they called him Pete Selmontgomery[?] or something like that. So, they knew J.W. as a person--and I knew him--as a person that didn't drink. I didn't ever know him to drink and cut up and go on or nothing, but this--. And he had a heart condition. He had medication for it. But this particular day, he didn't take his medication to work with him, and he was coming home, they said. He had a pickup truck and he was coming home out on the Bowling Green[?] Road, and he stopped at this lady's house and he was telling her how sick he was and so, I don't know. They claimed she called the law on him. He was slumped over the steering wheel, and they came out on the Bowling Green Road, got him and carried him back. He was begging to go home to get his medicine. And they carried him on back and put him in jail. He called his wife to come bring his medication. Howard Huggins had got to be the sheriff, then, a black man. I mean Calvin Moore had been--.

Tanzman: What year was this?

Clark: Nineteen seventy-three, I believe it was. So, anyhow, Howard Huggins told her that they put him in there because he was drunk. That he had to stay in there at least seventy-two hours and come back in the morning. When she came back, he was laying there a corpse. They had beat him up or did something.

Tanzman: And killed him.

Clark: Killed him that night in the jail.

Tanzman: Was that part of the reason for the--? I know there was a boycott. Could you tell me about the boycott?

Clark: They put on a boycott (inaudible).

Tanzman: Of what? Boycott of stores?

Clark: All the stores in Lexington.

Tanzman: And the issue was the violence?

Clark: Was the violence.

Tanzman: By police?

Clark: (Inaudible) violence. (Inaudible.) And so they was going to (inaudible) court--.

Tanzman: This was the FDP?

Clark: (Inaudible) Jackson with Ms. (Inaudible). Nothing never really happened because (inaudible) kind of got bought out or something.

Tanzman: Who went? Oh, you mean they went--?

Clark: Went to (inaudible).

Tanzman: State. Yeah. State Supreme Court. And that was to change? What were you trying to do?

Clark: Trying to, you know, get something done to tell them (inaudible) for letting this happen to us. (Inaudible.)

Tanzman: Where was the police chief then?

Clark: He was the sheriff and Howard was the deputy. So, they went to Howard instead of Moore (inaudible) asked to see, you know, his wife brought his medicine that night. Reverend Joseph McCrista[?], (inaudible) brother-in-law, (inaudible) J.W.'s sisters, come with her, brought her over there, but they wouldn't let them in. So, then that next morning he was dead when they got back.

Tanzman: OK. We will break for an interruption.

(There is an interruption in the interview.)

Tanzman: So, the boycott, the goal was to--. Oh, go ahead.

Clark: Well, I think, really, they might have had it on before we went to Jackson, but anyhow, they was definitely wanting to get rid of the sheriff and the deputy sheriff because they were the ones on duty, or knew that he had been beaten. But they say he hadn't been beaten, that he just died of natural causes, but they did find bruises, or cuts, or something on him, that they could prove that he had been beaten.

Tanzman: And when was this? Seventy-three or so?

Clark: I think it was seventy-three. So, anyway they did take the body, you know, and had an autopsy made of him, but then somebody paid the man, they say, they paid the person--.

Tanzman: The coroner?

Clark: The coroner. They paid him to get out of the state, so he was out of state when they had the trial.

Tanzman: So, he couldn't testify.

Clark: No, he couldn't testify, so he never did. And they say he was kind of bought out.

Tanzman: So, how did the boycott work? Were there people of all ages? Or people from all over the county?

Clark: Yeah, all the whole county was in it, you know. Some parts of the whole county was in it, and some people were wanting, you know, to disobey the boycott by slipping stuff out the back doors and stuff, but once, you know, they had it on tight and held it right up to two weeks till Christmas.

Tanzman: So, was that all the stores? All the white-owned stores? In Lexington?

Clark: Yeah, all white-owned. Mm-hm. All white-owned stores. All the whole square, you know, and the ones that were kind of off the square, but anyhow, they never got anything done because the leaders, people said, were bought out, and so then Ms. Young, she, eventually, you know, she eventually got married again.

Tanzman: It was a very strong boycott, though? You had a lot of people picketing? And anybody get arrested or anything?

Clark: Well, yes, I think, you know, several people got arrested out of the boycott. And, I mean, you know, they was just--. It was real tight and they had people, out-of-county leaders, you know, that come to help carry the boycott on.

Tanzman: Mm-hm. From Canton?

Clark: Well, they had some from Canton, some from Grenada, Mississippi. Yeah.

Tanzman: And you must have hurt the business.

Clark: It really--.

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

Clark: Well, you know, I'm kind of, sort of mixed up in it whether this was the time that I was arrested. Or was it, you know, another time that we had a boycott on? But I do know, at one time, one of the boycotts was on and we were going around the square singing "Ain't Going to Let Nobody Turn Us Around." So, we had, oh, just a whole line of children. Ms. Henry [Elra] Johnson, Election Commissioner District Two, and Ms. Hightower[?], Alton Kirkland[?], I think, oh, it was just a whole bunch of us, and a whole lot of little children, but Meaty Mack[?], he was the chief of police at that time. He a little, low man. He kind of limped in one leg. He'd hop around, like, when he'd go. He hopped over to the sidewalk and told us [to get] off the sidewalk, say, "If y'all don't shut up that racket," said, "when y'all come back around this a-way, if you still hollering and singing, I'm going to put you in jail." So, we didn't hush singing, we just kept walking and singing. We went all the way around the square and come back to where the Riley's Furniture[?] used to be, where they have a little, kind of Christian store, like, there, I think, now. And on the other side of it, where the old big red (inaudible) or the big red house up there that we used to, they used to hide the children to work on the jobs. The NYCA. Well, they tore it down, and they got a law firm there. So, anyway, when we did get back around to that corner and was still singing, Meaty Mack just hopped out there and he said, "Didn't I tell y'all to quit that fuss and all that racket y'all keeping up singing? Interfering the people over town? I told y'all I was going to take y'all to jail."

We didn't wait for him to arrest us, we all said, "Come on, y'all. We going to jail!" So, they were just (laughter) snapping children left and right, trying to get them out of the group of us. So, they finally thought they had them all. You know, the big girls and boys, they didn't know how old they were, anyway. When they found out they had some underage, you should have seen them scrambling around there getting papers for us to sign to get out.

So, when they come to me, I walked down, and they said, "Sign this."

And I said, "I read whatever I sign before I sign on the dotted line." So, Rends Anderson[?] was one of the polices. He said--. He was a black guy.

He said, "You ain't nothing but a fool!"

I said, "Well, you know, that just make two of us." (Laughter.) I said, "Since I'm such a big fool."

He said, "You ain't got no sense. You crazy."

I said, "You know, this ain't the first time I ever been told that, that I was crazy. But I'm just crazy enough to read what I sign." Ain't nothing but something they were trying to get you--.

Then Meaty Mack spoke up, "Ain't nothing but something to get you out of jail."

I said, "I didn't ask to get in, and I didn't hear myself ask to get out." I say, "I was enjoying it up there." Because we sure was still singing. Wasn't nobody turning us around. We just climbed up to the window and hollered out, (singing) "We ain't going to let nobody turn us around." Then, they accused us, that's what they were going to charge us for. They accused us of stealing their sheets, and they didn't even have one worth sleeping on, less only stealing.

Tanzman: Nobody was afraid.

Clark: Ah. But they really accused us. Say, "Yeah, y'all took all our new sheets."

I said, "You ain't had nary. I don't know when the last time they were new."

Tanzman: (Laughter.) That's great. I guess you turned them around.

Clark: Yeah. And so, anyway when they told me it wasn't nothing but something to get me out, and I said, "I didn't ask to get in. And I didn't hear myself asking to get out."

They said, "Well, just come on out of there anyway." So, I could see they wanted to get that young girl out of there, because she was underage.

Tanzman: How old was she?

Clark: She was fourteen. (Laughter.) She was a big, fat girl, and she was fourteen. And Ms. Kirkland say, "Oh, I know her mama and daddy going to be good and hot when they find out she up in here."

Tanzman: Sounds like people were very strong. They really hung in together.

Clark: Oh, they really stuck together, then. You know. Like I said a while back when we were talking. You know, they used to endorse the candidates, then they cooperated if it was a boycott on. You had people to stand behind you. But now, if you start something, they like Rends Anderson: "You a fool!" They don't have nothing they want to (inaudible) to it, or do with it.

Tanzman: It was a much stronger movement then.

Clark: It was much stronger and we had people, you know, from Alabama, every which away, from all across the country. From up North, you know, supporting us. But now, you know, if somebody come along want to support you, you hear people saying, "You crazy. You ain't got to do that now."

Tanzman: Well, it's not a strong county-wide movement, southern movement anymore. But what about when the schools started becoming integrated? What happened? You had children that were school-age.

Clark: Yeah, I had children going to school. I mean, but, at first, you know, like I say, when the first people integrated the school, was the people around from Old Pilgrim Rest and Long Branch.

Tanzman: Was that in 1965?

Clark: Somewhere along in that neighborhood.

Tanzman: And where did they send their kids to?

Clark: Well, they sent them to Durant High.

Tanzman: Which was the formerly white school?

Clark: Yeah, separate school they called it, at that time. I think. Durant Separate School.

Tanzman: Were there many children or just a couple?

Clark: Oh, ha, ha! Would have been a busload of them, I think, if they had just, you know, put them all on one bus, but they didn't put them all on one bus because at the time when they first integrated, some of the parents brought the children, and some let them ride the bus, and they rode the Durant Attendance Center bus and was dropped off at the Durant High white school, because that's the way they started. When my children started, that's the way they were doing. So, I told my husband one evening, I said, "Jack, now I think if our children go to Durant High, they ought to be riding the Durant High bus and not have to be standing around after school is out, waiting on Mr. Johnny B. to come from the DAC up there to pick up the children and bring them home.

Tanzman: The Durant Attendance Center was the all-black school, segregated school.

Clark: Yeah, all-black school that they built for--. They had a sign up there in the fork of the road, it was built for niggers.

Tanzman: In front of the school?

Clark: Out, before you get to the school. It was up there before you get to the fork on the side of the road, up there: This school was built for niggers.

Tanzman: Oh, that's horrible.

Clark: Sure did! And I think the sign's still up there somewhere because it's a place they call Sonny's Auto Shop, down below town. Not Sonny McCrory's[?] Auto Repair Shop and Wrecker Service, but there's a place down there they call Sonny's and it does auto mechanics. And that sign, they say, is still there, side of that road.

Tanzman: That's disgusting.

Clark: Mm-hm.

Tanzman: How did you two decide to send your kids to the school?

Clark: Well, you know, after these kids had been going for so long, hadn't nothing happened to any of them, and I felt like, if, you know, they were going because of getting a higher education or better education, I wanted my children to have a better education. So, Shirley had, you know, kept pleading and begging to go.

Tanzman: How old was she?

Clark: Seventeen. She wanted to go to Durant High. So, then it was coming school time, to put the children back in school. And so, I told him, I said, "Well, one thing about it." I said, "I'm not going to send my children by Mr. Nauh[?] and have to stand out and wait for school to open, you know, because they had to go earlier so they could get on down to Durant Attendance Center before time for their school to open. I said, "So, what we should do, go down there." We knew the man that was driving the bus, Bennie Carwell[?].

Tanzman: The bus to the white school? To the previously white Durant High?

Clark: Yeah. Uh-huh. Right. So, we went down there and asked him about the children riding the bus. He said, "Well, Georgia, you're exactly right. If you're going to have the children going to that school, I think they should ride the bus that go to the school."

I said, "Well, that's what we decided, too. If they were going to Durant High, they should ride the Durant High bus."

He said, "Well, they definitely can ride my bus, and I guarantee you, ain't nobody going to bother them." Said, "You just bring them down, or have them ready, and I come," he say, "I come across the hill up there at the mailbox and pick them up."

Tanzman: Was this 1966? Was this a year after?

Clark: Something about like 1966 or seven, because I believe it was the fall of sixty-seven.

Tanzman: How did the kids get accepted or not? What happened at the school when they got over there? Shirley?

Clark: Well, when I carried the two little children. I carried their report cards. You know, what they had gotten. What class they was supposed to be promoted to, and I carried them to their room to talk to these teachers. I knew most of the ladies. Ms. Alice Barnes[?]. We had been reared up on her place. She was a Montgomery, the Dave Montgomery Plantation. Well, we played play store and all of that with her, but then, I mean, you know, she was not as bad as some of the teachers, but she did the things like, you know, they said do to the children, like spray them when they get there.

Tanzman: Spray them?

Clark: Spray them with disinfectant or whatever.

Tanzman: Oh!

Clark: And then, they had white children on this side playing, and black children over here.

Tanzman: In the same class.

Clark: In the same class. They were the same class. And so then, Shirley was put in the--. She was given an eleventh-grade curriculum sheet to sign up for school for herself because I thought, "Seventeen, and you can't sign your own self in school?" You know, and I had the two little ones to sign in, and so the teacher, she put her in--. She was the secretary in the office, keeping the records. So, she gave Shirley this sheet and told her, you know, put down her subjects that she wanted to take. So Shirley didn't actually see some of the subjects that, you know, the other kids was taking, but she didn't think, you know, that they was trying to pull nothing on her. She just kept going. They put her in the eleventh grade. Took her out of the eleventh grade and put her in the twelfth grade, like Tamara. Tamara, they'd take her back and put her in the eleventh grade and let her stay two or three days. Then, they put her in the twelfth grade. And they just kept interchanging like that.

Tanzman: Very tough to go to school that way.

Clark: Mm-hm. And I kept asking Shirley, why were they doing this? She'd come home and say, "I was in the eleventh grade. They left me sitting in there till such and such a time."

I said, "Well, why are they doing this?"

She said, 'I don't know, but Ms. So-and-so said next week, I'm going to get my right grades. You know, I'm going to get the subjects I'm supposed to be having." Well, she and Ms. Hattie Bell Saffold's[?] daughter, Rosie, came from Durant Attendance Center together and supposed to been in the same grade. Both of them was promoted to the twelfth. They accepted Hattie Bell's daughter Rosie in the twelfth grade, but they didn't accept Shirley.

Tanzman: So, did she lose a year of school that way?

Clark: Well, she lost everything, I guess you would call it. What I mean, she just had to leave and go up North. She went to Milwaukee. Her oldest sister was teaching at Lincoln High, and Shirley started to school there. Well, they just decided, "We won't even tell the people, you know. You call me Mrs. Sims and you Miss Clark when I speak to you like I speak to the other young ladies, and we ain't going to say we no kin. You know. We sisters or nothing. We just going on." So, but one of the teachers, she was just so nosy, looking at them, look so much alike, you know, because they do. (Laughter.) I mean, they look so much alike if you see Shirley with her back turned, you actually think she Liz.

And she said, "Ain't y'all kin? Y'all sure do look alike. I ain't never seen a student and a teacher look that much alike not to be no kin." Well, they never owned up that they were any kin or nothing.

So that September when she called me, and she said, "I could graduate, but," she said, "don't seem like I ever been to school in the twelfth grade since I got here. And I've been in the twelfth grade ever since I've been here." She said, "But, I think I'll go on to the January semester, and that's when the rest of them are going to graduate." She said, "I'll just graduate in there."

Tanzman: Was [she] in Milwaukee?

Clark: Yeah.

Tanzman: So, she actually had to quit the other one. Didn't learn anything.

Clark: Just left, I mean, because at that time, we had, oh, the attorney, Mel Leventhal[?] was the school attorney. He believed everything they said that Shirley did, and nothing Shirley said they did.

Tanzman: The Inc. Fund lawyer?

Clark: Uh-huh, he did. He got right with them and they had a meeting at Rice's Chapel. He came and he asked Shirley about how was she doing? And what they did. And she told. So, Fred Banks called me and said, "Well, what did Leventhal do?"

I said, "Nothing."

So, then Leventhal called me and said, "I hear you said I did nothing."

I said, "Well, if you did nothing, then you did nothing." I said, "Because you didn't believe a word she said." I say, "You took their side of it." I said, "Now, what you call that? Doing something? Or doing nothing?" I say, "Yeah, I told Fred you didn't do nothing." I said, "Because you didn't believe nothing she said." I say, "Everything she said they did," I say, "Everybody, even the children down there, help them, say 'Naw, they ain't doing that to Shirley. Shirley just keeping up something all the time herself.'"

Tanzman: But see, was the FDP very involved in trying to help the kids? I mean, the movement in the county?

Clark: Well, not really. I mean, we made up, Mr. Bruce and Ms. Beatrice Ellis[?] and some more parents had vowed that we going to meet out there at nine o'clock that next day. I got there out of some--.

Tanzman: You mean at the school with the teachers?

Clark: At the school, to talk with the teachers and things. I reckon I got there like--. My car had quit or something, but I got there like, ten minutes after nine, and I don't believe nobody had been there to talk to no teachers or, you know, all of their grades of children's teachers by that time, and gone. So, I got there and every teacher I asked, had they seen Ms. So-and-so and Mr. So-and-so?

"Naw, they ain't been here. We ain't seen them." So, I waited, and I waited and waited. And I didn't see them.

So, I went in the office to talk to the lady, and she wanted, "What in the world did you let Shirley--?"

"Ma'am, don't you say nothing about I let Shirley do nothing." I said, "Shirley is seventeen years old, and I know she ought to been able to sign herself in school, while I signed the other two little ones." "Well," I said, "And you knew that Shirley was promoted to the twelfth grade."

"Naw, I didn't. Shirley didn't show me her report card or her credentials. I ain't seen nothing."

I said, "You gave her that curriculum sheet, that eleventh-grade sheet to sign." I say, "Shirley say you gave it to her."

"Naw, I just laid it down, and she picked it up."

I said, "Well, how in the world you thought Shirley know what to pick up?" I say, "Shirley didn't know nothing from Adam's house cat what to pick up, up here." I say, "She ain't never been here before."

"I didn't know she didn't know."

I say, "I don't know why you didn't know she didn't know," I say, "because she came here new."

Tanzman: Yeah, it was tremendously hard to be the first ones and for her to already know the school.

Clark: Right.

Tanzman: Right now, are there any whites in the schools in this part of the county, in Durant? I know in the other parts--.

Clark: (Inaudible) supposed to be black schools?

Tanzman: Well, in the once-integrated schools, yeah (laughter), the ones that used to be all white.

Clark: Yeah, well, all-white school, yes, because the kids live in that area, and they didn't turn them out or turn them around. I mean my granddaughter graduated from Durant High.

Tanzman: Oh, she did?

Clark: Mm-hm. Sure did.

Tanzman: So, things have gotten a little better.

Clark: But she was way behind. I mean, Rosie graduated. Like I said, they accepted Rosie Saffold. She graduated. She was the only black in that white class that year, but she and Shirley had the same lessons, got the same grades or whatever. But Shirley couldn't be in the twelfth. Just Rosie Saffold.

Tanzman: So, your daughter was really forced out, basically.

Clark: Yeah, and when I went and talked to the principal. I had talked to the lady in the office. He said Shirley was where she belonged and, as far as he was concerned, that's where she'd stay the rest of her life.

I said, "Well, you don't seem a bit concerned to me." I said, "And, if everybody was as concerned as you, I know wouldn't nothing happen."

Tanzman: Terrible. I heard that in Durant, this is before I came in sixty-six, but that there was a lot of reprisals. There were a lot of threats against, like, Riley's Store where kids were meeting to try to go.

Clark: Uh-huh. And even that Riley girl said that they wasn't doing nothing to Shirley. And they wasn't doing nothing to her. That everything was all right.

Tanzman: The daughter of the Rileys?

Clark: Mm-hm, the daughter of the Rileys. Renee. Shirley and Renee was in school together. (Laughter.) And she said, "Naw, they ain't doing nothing to Shirley." And then, so that year when Martin Luther King had been assassinated and they wanted, black and white children asked that they have a moment of inspiration, you know. A little prayer time for Martin Luther King, and, you know.

Tanzman: Mm-hm. In the high school?

Clark: In the high school, and Mr. Brown said Shirley was the one instigated it. That Shirley was going around (laughter) keeping up stuff.

Tanzman: He scapegoated her.

Clark: Yeah. Mm-hm. I told him, I said, "Mr. Brown," I said, "Just as many white folks think what Martin Luther King did was great." I said, "Because if it hadn't been for him, we wouldn't be where we are now."

"I don't know why you think that. Martin Luther King ain't did nothing."

Tanzman: Was he the principal?

Clark: Mm-hm. And I told him, I said, "And, Shirley didn't have to tell those kids what let's do." I said, "They wanted to do it as much as Shirley did, or more so." I said, "But then, you only picked Shirley out, sent her out of school, downtown." And I said, "The longest day you live, Shirley live, and Georgia Clark her mother live, I don't ever want to hear tell of you sending Shirley away from school till time for that bus to pick her up."

Tanzman: Did your other kids have a similar experience? The little ones?

Clark: Well, they did a lot of little dirty things. You know, and got by with it. And Ms. McCrary was Debbie's teacher. She said, "Debbie don't do nothing but sit up in the class and sleep. She don't never get her lessons." So, she never passed her. Till the day that they took off freedom of choice, she passed. Iris they didn't pass and every year, till they got ready to take freedom of choice off, then they retained her.

Tanzman: You mean, freedom of choice, the freedom to choose any school that they want?

Clark: Any school you want.

Tanzman: What happened when they got rid of that? Did the schools become segregated?

Clark: Uh-huh. Levanthal let them take it out. He and Dr. Mallory[?].

Tanzman: So, after that the schools were segregated completely, again, or what happened?

Clark: Yeah, went back to what they were. You go back to your school and leave us alone. Over here, we got blacks that live in this area.

Tanzman: When was that? Right after Shirley was in--?

Clark: That was in sixty-eight.

Tanzman: So, was that reversed? Because I thought the schools in this area were interracial.

Clark: Mm-hm, they was reversed, and then all of the whites, just about, have gone off to private school, then.

Tanzman: Oh, they have?

Clark: Yeah. So, that's like I said--.

Tanzman: To academies.

Clark: That year they went picking places for academies and this thing and that thing because they wasn't going with them niggers. (Laughter.) So they got out and went on to they self.

Tanzman: Yeah. I know in the Delta, too.

Clark: And took our school to do it. And that school was built for black children, right up there on that hill.

Tanzman: Is that an elementary school?

Clark: Yeah, it was an elementary and, like, a (inaudible) junior high. Like a junior high school, went to the ninth grade.

Tanzman: And it was originally built for--?

Clark: Just for black people. They built it for us and then come back and took it.

Tanzman: And they made it into a white academy?

Clark: A white academy. They said, when we wanted to buy it, they said, "Naw. We ain't waiting on no money to come being transferred from no Greenville to Lexington. You supposed to have your bid in your pocket."

Tanzman: Wanting you to bid with the money.

Clark: Uh-huh, with the money for them to see it, but we had told them how much it was going to be, and all they had to do was call over to the First National Bank and let the man know that it had been transferred.

Tanzman: You had bid how much?

Clark: We had bid at, like, 300, I think. Three-hundred and fifty dollars.

Tanzman: And how much did they get it for?

Clark: They paid one dollar for the school.

Tanzman: Did some of the White Citizens Council? Or whoever they were?

Clark: The supervisor. Grady Ellis, said he had a bid in his pocket to beat anything Georgia Clark had.

Tanzman: One dollar.

Clark: (Laughter.) Yeah, he didn't tell us what it was, but he said, he didn't care what I pulled up, he had a bid to beat it. And so then, he went and told some of the whites how much they paid for the school. So the man was trying to run against Grady Ellis and he told me what Grady had said that he had a bid to beat me anywhere, no matter what I pull up. He was, "Naw." They wasn't going to sell that school to us. They going to keep it, and they were going to make something out of it that was going to benefit all of us.

Tanzman: This is the white private school?

Clark: Uh-huh. And like I told them, I said, "No, I want my child. So, I ain't going to send him up there because he may go up there with a head on and come back without one. So, I'm not studying about them." I said, "Ain't nothing to support us."

Tanzman: Have any of the young people stayed much since the movement in the county? Have there been any more opportunities for them, economically or anything?

Clark: Some of the girls that helped integrate the school teaches there.

Tanzman: Oh, yeah?

Clark: Mm-hm. Yeah.

Tanzman: Well, that's good.

Clark: Yeah. At least, one, I know. And that's, name Annie Lee. That was her mama's name. (Laughter.) Oh, I can't think of the girl's name, but she was one of the Greens, Wade Green[?] and Annie Lee Green's daughter.

Tanzman: Mm-hm. So, some of them stayed?

Clark: Mm-hm.

Tanzman: What are you involved with now, and what is the Freedom Democratic Party involved with? I gather this is the only county that still has an FDP.

Clark: Well, FDP is still having, you know, like sometime weekly meetings, I guess. You know, I don't get to hear about them or go to them because I be involved with other things, such as, I'm in with the National Council of Negro Women. I been belonging to it since sixty-eight, I think. So, but, since--.

Tanzman: And what are they doing? What are you doing with them?

Clark: Since that time we have [an] emergency food pantry. I believe we started the pantry around sixty-seven or sixty-eight, I think. And we started it up, like, at that time, we were having to more like buy more of the food, you know. But now, we buy some of the food and we are given stuff, you know, to kind of make up some, but it started off like twenty-something cents a pound, I think, but now it's fourteen cents a pound, you know, for different things. We get it for fourteen cents a pound.

Tanzman: Where is the pantry?

Clark: The pantry is located in Lexington on Yazoo, 202 Yazoo Street on your right-hand side coming off the hill, like, when you're coming down Yazoo Street off the square. And, if you're looking for it or a mark to go by, to know that you're actually by the pantry, other than looking up at the sign that's up over the door, NCNW, which is National Council of Negro Women, Emergency Food Pantry, so, on the other side is what used to be the Central Funeral Home. Now it's Central Harrison Funeral Home, because Bennie Harrison[?] is the owner of it.

Tanzman: Mm-hm. What else are you involved in now?

Clark: Before I got to be with the food pantry, before the National Council of Negro Women started the food pantry, I ran for the election commissioner of district two, Holmes County, and I won.

Tanzman: When was that? Congratulations! (Laughter.)

Clark: I ran in 1976, and I became the election commissioner in seventy-seven, so I've been with it ever since. Although it wasn't because--. I mean, like, there was like, first year, I had two opponents, then the next year I didn't have nary. Then the next year, I had one opponent. Then it skipped maybe the next year and go on over to the next one. I had that, like I say, first opponent, I had an educator and a contractor. The next opponent I had was a mortician. Then, the next one was a beautician. So, I've had them.

Tanzman: [They have] changed over the years. (Laughter.)

Clark: I've had them, from contractor to beautician.

Tanzman: Who was the first election commissioner, black elected official there?

Clark: The first black elected official with the election commission was Howard Taft Bailey, as far as my knowing.

Tanzman: Uh-huh. And that was in the sixties?

Clark: Yeah.

Tanzman: So, you've been election commissioner since seventy-six to now?

Clark: Mm-hm.

Tanzman: How many are there?

Clark: Well, there's five. It's one for each beat. Well, when we first came on, we ran and Joe Smith was the beat one election commissioner, but he decided to run for Calvin Moore's [position]. Calvin Moore was the circuit clerk, and he decided to run for circuit clerk, so he lost, then he was out. And they appointed Virgil Cain Jr.[?], a white guy. Well, he taken ill, but I mean he stuck with it. He was sent all down in Texas and Maryland and I don't know where for treatments. He had cancer. And so, he died in, I believe it was ninety. Might have been ninety. It was a little later up in [the] nineties. But it was in the late nineties, I think, when he died, so his wife carried out his term, Mrs. Virgil Cain.

Tanzman: How many black commissioners are there now, out of the five?

Clark: All five of them.

Tanzman: Oh. OK.

Clark: But, when we first started, all five of us was black till Joe Smith gave up to run for Calvin Moore's job. Then he lost his job to Virgil Cain, because they appointed Virgil Cain, and that's how we got one white in there. All five of us was black in the first place. After certain time. And like I say, I ran in seventy-six, took office in seventy-seven and been it ever since. But I had to fight for it sometimes. (Laughter.)

Tanzman: I bet.

Clark: But so far, for the last two or three times, I, you know, just walk right back in, you know. Just go out there and say, "Vote for me." You know. Just meet people and shake their hands.

Tanzman: Now you have a reputation, by now. (Laughter.)

Clark: So that's been that.

Tanzman: Yeah. Great.

Clark: So, next time around to run is 2000.

Tanzman: Is it every two years?

Clark: Mm-mm. You stay in four years. And we are elected every presidential election.

Tanzman: Oh, OK. Oh, so next year. Right. Has Robert Clark been active with the county? Having him in office as the first state representative, has he been helpful for here?

Clark: As far as I know. They gave him an appreciation day back in May, I think it was, of this year, and everybody was praising his name, that he had been there since sixty-seven, and had done, you know, wonders for the county. Which he's not my representative.

Tanzman: Oh, that's right. I forgot that. (Laughter.)

Clark: But then, you know, I have to help praise him, too, because he the one acting like maybe he might be my representative instead of my own representative. Now, she comes to church. She comes to my church and shows up. She didn't come this time as far as I know. I wasn't there if she came, but she always going to send that $300 or whatever, you know, up there to represent her.

Tanzman: Three hundred dollars?

Clark: Three hundred dollars, you know, give it to the church for her being their representative. And she comes up and she stands behind the pulpit, and like I said, Georgia been the election commissioner since seventy-six, and she got her first time to stand behind that pulpit to tell anything.

Tanzman: You've never been up in the church to talk.

Clark: No, I ain't. (Laughter.) I get up in the church and talk, but I don't get behind that pulpit. I say I know my place. (Inaudible.)

Tanzman: What is your church?

Clark: My church is West Missionary Baptist Church.

Tanzman: Mm-hm. Was that a church that ever had meetings in the movement? That opened up? Or Head Start?

Clark: Well, a few county-wide meetings has been held there due to Georgia asking, you know. The pastor wasn't going to preach that Sunday. He was going somewhere else, so, I asked to have the county-wide. So, but, now we got first, third, and fifth Sundays, so we don't have no odd times for me to get to ask for the county-wide. When I go, they say, "Who wants the county-wide?" Oh, I want it, but I can't have it. (Laughter.)

Tanzman: The wrong time.

Clark: Wrong time. (Laughter.)

Tanzman: You still have a community center here? That was built by the FDP?

Clark: Yes. We have, I mean, I would say, the whole West community built this center. They donated materials. The Fisher Brothers out at the John Wesley Fisher Saw Mill, they gave logs or cut the logs that we provided out there and made lumber out of them and the people came from far and near, out Old Pilgrim Rest, Bowling Green, Long Branch, Second Pilgrim Rest, Durant and helped build on that center. Ms. Althea McGee[?] was the chairperson, at that time. She passed away.

Tanzman: I remember them, that couple.

Clark: Yeah.

Tanzman: They had the café.

Clark: Yeah. (Laughter.) Sure did. And the funny part, Althea be going places and she would ask me if I wanted to go. Jack followed me far as the café and then he and Earis[?] would say, "Well, we'll stay here and listen out so if anything happens to y'all, we'll come and see about you."

I said, "Well, I don't know what could be done happened to us before y'all got there! Because y'all just need to go along and be there with us." (Laughter.)

Tanzman: Right. They didn't come along! (Laughter.)

Clark: No, they didn't come. (Laughter.) Didn't nothing happen to us, but they didn't come. They just stayed at the café. (Laughter.)

Tanzman: OK. Well, I want to thank you. There's a lot more we can talk about, but I think it's getting a little late, so, I want to thank you very much, Mrs. Clark, for being with us tonight.

Clark: You are very welcome.

(End of the interview.)


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