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.
Ms. Hattye Gatson was born
in Pickens, Mississippi, in 1942. Her mother died when Ms.
Gatson was a child, and Ms. Gatson was reared on a farm by
her father in the community of Durant, Mississippi. All of
the schools she attended were segregated. She was graduated
from Durant Attendance Center in 1963. In her junior year
of high school, Ms. Gatson began working in private homes
and babysitting. When Ms. Gatson was a teenager, Durant was
a segregated town, including restaurants, schools, churches,
and the hospital. In 1965, integration began to occur. During
the sixties, Ms. Gatson canvassed for voter registration throughout
her community, persisting even when the Klan retaliated with
cross burnings in the yards of movement activists.
Working with the Child Development
Group of Mississippi, Ms. Gatson worked for Head Start at
one of the first centers at Second Pilgrim Rest Church.
Early childhood 1
Movement beginning in Durant,
Voter registration work 5
Klan cross burnings 6
Initial movement meetings in
Segregated eateries 7
Hospital segregation 8
Head Start 11
Talon Zipper Plant 17
AN ORAL HISTORY
This is an interview for
the Civil Rights Documentation Project. The interview is with
Ms. Hattye Gatson and is taking place on January 16, 2000.
The interviewer is Harriet Tanzman.
am in Durant, Mississippi, and talking with Hattye Gatson.
I'm doing it for the University of Southern Mississippi Oral
History Center and Tougaloo [College]. OK. Hello, Hattye.
Hattye, can you tell us a little bit about, well, the date
you were born and where you were born and who your parents
I was born May 8, 1942, to Mr. and Mrs. Reagon[?] Gatson in
what was your father doing then?
was a farmer.
he working for other people, or on his own farm?
was working for other people and, as he lived on his brother's
farm, he worked, you know. But he never owned his own.
both your folks raise you?
father raised me. My mother died when I was the youngest,
and he just raised three of us.
have two siblings?
I have two other sisters with my mother, but my father had
from a previous?
He had eight children with his first wife and three of us.
And where did you actually grow up? Was it in Durant? I mean,
the early part of your life. Was it in Pickens or Durant?
early part of my life was in Durant. The community was still
Durant, and that's where I've been all my life.
were you out in the country or near here, in the town of Durant?
early years out in the country. Small community named Gauge's[?]
what kind of school did you go to out there? You and your
we went to the little small, community school. One room, one
teacher. And she taught everybody in sections until I was
sixth grade. Then we moved here.
being to Durant?
Durant. Yeah. We moved to Durant, and I went to school here.
was the school like? Was it a very tiny school? Or a large
school? This was, at that time, the black school. Right? The
Here in Durant? Well, at that time, it was a large school,
but still, all black, and we went to that school until sixty-nine
when the new school was built, which was Durant Attendance
Center. And, it was huge. You know, nice. But still, all black.
And I never went to an integrated school.
And, Hattye, did you graduate from that high school?
1963. From Durant Attendance Center.
your father working here in Durant, then, or out on the farm
in Durant then, his health had failed him, and he was doing
simple plowing other people's gardens. And, that's all he
did, because he was sick. So, he didn't do any farming, then,
after we moved to Durant.
And, when--. I know that Durant was one of the places that,
it was a strong movement in it, a little later. Could you
tell us, how did you first get involved in that? And what
were you doing? Oh, first tell us about high school. Were
you working and going to school some?
I worked some summers, and going to school. I think I started
working, like, my junior year, in private homes and babysitting.
kind of wages were they paying?
highest I made was $15.00, and the lowest was $12.50.
Gatson: A week.
week. For full-time work?
that was it. Twelve, fifty, and we got fifteen later on in
the sixties. Fifteen dollars a week.
you were working like a grown person. You were working the
Now, in school, we got the $12.50 because we just worked,
like in the afternoon sometime, and on weekends. And during
the summer. It was $12.50.
was Durant very--? Could you describe the climate here in
terms of whether the town itself was quite segregated with
jobs and public accommodations? What was it like here when
you were a teenager?
when I was a teenager here, [it] was very segregated, and
black people was not allowed into white, what they called,
predominantly white cafes and white restaurants. And everything,
schools, everything here was segregated. And we just had--.
Everybody had his own place, as they call it. Black people
attended black schools, black churches, black restaurants.
Everything. And white did the same. They attended their own.
And, well, we had, except the train station, I believe, everything
else was white and black. Signs in the windows saying, "Colored
people" on one side; "white" on the other side.
you mean when you bought in the stores? Or restaurants?
the grocery stores. Just restaurants, and mainly the ice cream
stand, which was the Dairy Bar. It was very much like that.
And we just had this white window and the colored window.
And that's where you had to go and order whatever. So, if
you went to the white side, you got in jail.
kids do that?
the kids didn't do it because no one wanted to be in jail.
So, up until sixty-five, everybody went to the colored side,
like the sign said, and everybody white went to the white
side, like the sign said. But, it was finally integrated.
It started getting integrated in 1965.
Could you tell me about that? What developed here in the city?
How did people first start coming together? Were there people
from outside, or was it local people who were coming together?
was mainly outside people started it. They came in as civil
rights workers, and they worked along [with] the local black
people and families in order to get the movement started.
what were their names, the people who came here? I know they
came around the county. There were some people that came here
in, what, sixty-five or so?
we had Fitz Mullen, Bob Lower, Diane Wagner[?].
Fitz Mullen? It's F-I-T-Z and then Mullen, M-U-L-L-E-N. And
Bob Lower is B-O-B L-?
they came as volunteers? Freedom Democratic Party?
as volunteers. And then some more. Yep. I done forgot. They
came in 1965, and they worked in the Durant area.
were you out of high school by then?
I was out of high school. I got out of high school in sixty-three.
And, but, what really got me interested: I was watching the
television and seeing how people were being treated in Alabama.
You know. And I was working at a private home during the time,
and would turn on the TV and see all of the riots and how
they were doing, and I just couldn't wait to get involved.
And I was glad when they came through, because that's what
I wanted to do. And at that time, they was called freedom
riders. And that's what I said I wanted to be: a freedom rider.
mean, when you were watching, was that the Selma, Alabama
It was the Selma, Alabama movement.
you couldn't wait to join it.
wait. When they was saying civil rights and freedom riders
coming through, well, I was just at that age to want to get
in it. And, so I did.
you want to get in it to--? Did you see it as a way of changing
because I always thought that people was people. You know.
And it shouldn't have been, like, colored here and white there.
And everybody living in the same town, only white was making
decisions because they was the ones that was voting. And I
always felt that everybody was important and everybody need
to have voted on issues. And that's what got me started to
want to get registered and try and help other people to get
did you first try to go down to register?
when I first went, it was easy, because we didn't have anything
to do but register. You know. But there was in-- . Lord, when
was that? Anyway, when we turned twenty-one, we could register,
and it was easy for, you know, like me. But for my father
and all the others, so many more people, it wasn't.
that because of the poll taxes or the literacy tests?
was mainly the literacy test. And they just didn't feel like
the older people could register, you know. But it was easy
for the younger ones to just go in and register. And they
had to know the--. I believe they started out making them
repeat, recite the Bill of Rights and those people couldn't
do that. And that means they found their particular thing
to turn them around because they couldn't do it. But we didn't
have to do it.
Was the circuit court clerk McClellan then?
Mr. Henry McClellan at the time.
did he treat people when they went in to try to register in
the early days.
then what I was told, that they turned people around and scold
at them, and some people said they even sicced dogs at them.
You know. And they wouldn't even let them near the courthouse
were you involved with the voter registration? Were you trying?
What were you doing in the community with the civil rights
workers? What did you start getting active with?
to canvas through the communities getting people to agree
to go and be registered because so many was saying, well,
then, you know, they was afraid, and they said, well, they
didn't count. You know. And mainly to get them to agree to
go to try and register. That's what I was doing.
they afraid of reprisals against them of what would happen
if they went down?
they was afraid of what would happen because of the cross-burnings
and shootings and then they was just afraid that they couldn't
read well enough or couldn't write well enough, and they was
withdrawn. They didn't want to do that.
you tell us a little about the cross-burning? When did that
happen, and where were they burning crosses? What were they
that happened in sixty-five, also. They were burning them
in front of some churches and burning them in families' yards,
wherever they'd seen civil rights workers, white, and if they
saw those people, they burned a cross in their yards.
were some of the people they were doing that to?
they burned one in front of, I think, Ms. Viola Winter's[?]
house. Ms. Elra Johnson's[?] home, and, I think, Second Pilgrim
Rest Church. I believe. They didn't burn crosses in the city
churches. They didn't burn them in--. Not that I can remember.
But the crosses were burned in front of the homes of Viola
Winters and Ms. Elra Johnson? Were they very active in the
active, to have been elderly people, even then. They were
very active in the movement, and welcomed the civil rights
workers in their homes, held meetings in their homes, and
those types of people were the ones that really had courage
to stand up and face this. And that's what brought in so many
more of the younger families. They were really examples. If
those old people could do it, then the younger families started
coming in, and--.
great. So, these were some of the, actually, the elders in
the community. They were already in their, probably in their
sixties by then?
And then we had one family, elderly man, Mr. Jesse William[?].
You remember him?
he was one that was very active in the movement and was very
brave. So, people just looked at those people and started
saying, "Well, if they can do it, we can do it." And they
had various meetings in homes and different ones' homes.
they begin by meeting in homes more than in churches?
They began by meeting in homes. I think the first meetings
were held at, I think it was Second Pilgrim Rest Church before
that Head Start center, but it was in homes.
Did it take quite a while to get a church within Durant to
never did get a church to agree in Durant, because they were
just too afraid. The only church we met was Second Pilgrim
Rest out in the rural.
see, you met in the homes of local people that were active
and you said that some of the families started coming into
it after awhile. Were you then working a lot with the voter
registration? That was a lot of what you were doing at that
I was doing that and then, that was it, mainly, back in the
sixties, was trying to get people registered to vote.
When you brought them down, this was like sixty-five, right?
Sixty-five on. And sixty-six. When you brought them down,
did they face any reprisal for trying to register? I mean,
did they have any problems from jobs or anything from trying
that I can remember. I don't remember anybody getting fired
or anything for trying to register. I don't think. The only
time they was getting fired was when the marches, you know,
took place, and the boycott. And then, that's what year, in
sixty-five, boycotting the towns in order to get signs removed.
You know. Now, that's when some people lost their jobs.
were boycotting businesses that were segregated, or what were
you doing? What was the boycott about?
boycott took place in order to really get the businesses who
had the signs in the windows saying, "Colored" and "White"
to remove those signs, and then allow the black people to
go into such restaurants at the time, they wasn't allowed.
That was Rick's Café[?]. You couldn't go through the
front door. You had to go in the back. And all of the little
restaurants, the bus station had a little restaurant.
they serve at all, or did they just have a counter that you
had to take out?
had a window, that you went to the window, and you got served
through the window, but you couldn't go in and sit.
there were big marches that were held downtown about that
or was it marches?
it wasn't too many marches here.
but you boycotted?
did the boycott develop? Were many people involved in it or
did it grow?
grew, and everybody cooperated here so nicely. And they caused
businesses to go out, you know.
went out of business?
it really did hurt the town when the boycott took place, but
through it all, they removed the signs and removed the partitions,
and they got integrated.
it was successful. Did the boycott go on a few months?
it went on. It was very successful. I don't think it went
months. It might have gone maybe one or two months, but after
it was so successful, until it didn't take long before Durant
had gone. It's gone down from the boycott.
So, once they integrated, it stayed that way.
it stayed. Once they took the signs out, it stayed integrated
happened--? You told me something about the hospital. Could
you tell me--? Or other public accommodations like that. Was
there--? What was the situation in waiting rooms of places
like, is it called Durant Hospital?
was. Well, at that time, they had two separate waiting rooms.
The white had a waiting room, and I guess they had, colored,
you know, had a waiting room. And it was separate, and well,
a group of people marched there, but now, I wasn't involved
in that march. But it did have a group of people to march
to the hospital and around it.
did the waiting rooms look like, the separate ones?
colored ones were very small, and the white was larger. And
they had the nice chairs and nice magazines, and the colored
one didn't. You know. And it was a very small waiting room
at that hospital.
black people get served equally by the hospital once they
were in from the waiting room?
now, I don't know too much about that part, because, see,
I was never a patient up there until way in the seventies.
But the waiting rooms were an issue, then. And who was--?
You told me something about Fitz. Was he involved?
he was involved because during this time here, he was, I guess,
still a doctor, and knew about doctoring and had been up there
a time or two.
so he helped organize?
he had helped to organize that situation with the hospital.
what happened as a result? They were picketing for awhile?
I don't think so. They just marched up there.
some reason. (Laughter.) But I don't remember because I wasn't
in that march.
hospital workers involved?
of them was. Some of them was in the march and I think maybe
one or two, I believe, they said got fired for marching.
what was the effect on the hospital?
the only thing that I see, they kept the little waiting room
until in the eighties, I believe, when they remodeled the
hospital, and then that mean they did away with that little
was still a colored waiting room till the eighties?
that's still a little room.
but was the white room integrated as a result of the marches
or was it still segregated?
Gatson: I think
it was still--. It was integrated, but still people was segregated
because black people didn't go. They just didn't take advantage.
it was officially integrated but not--?
practice so much?
It still was the same little waiting room until they did away
with it by renovating the hospital. And they turned that little
room into a small, little office.
it took a long time.
it took a long time to get it just one waiting room, for everybody.
And they took the lobby and made one, just one waiting room
for white and blacks.
you were involved, you were, like, in your late teens, right?
Something like that, when you started? Early twenties? Were
there other people who were that age? Or was it mostly elderly
and then middle-aged who were doing it?
was a lot of us. Mary Hightower, Clarence Stamper[?], and
Peter Groves[?]. All these were younger people, and--.
the community in Durant?
and from--. Ms. Hattie Bell's Sapho's[?] daughters.
yeah. What were their names again?
Jean, Rosemary, and they were the two that was real active
at the time, but she had, let me see, Mary Pearl. I don't
remember her being too active at the time. And then there
was young people like Charlie Percy Alexander[?] out in the
So, it was young people were really playing a big role in
helping do this.
the young people were really playing a big role, and so many
I have forgotten. And, like Cat Reed[?]. Uh, what is it? Let
me see. Oh, I can't think of--.
there were a group of you.
it was a group.
when there were meetings in the community, you helped organize
them? Were you helping to get together people into meetings?
And we attended quite a few of the meetings, and that's how
the young people got in because so many would say they went
to the meeting. And then (inaudible) others were going to
the meetings. And they encouraged a lot of the older ones
to go to the meetings.
You had a good effect.
we had a good effect on the community.
That's great. And where were you working after you were working
in people's homes? Did you go to work for one of the agencies?
I finished working in the people's homes, I believe I got
my first job that I called a job, was in Head Start, working
with the CDGM.
Child Development Group of Mississippi.
was my first real job.
Was that out at Second Pilgrim Rest? Out in the country? The
At that first center at Second Pilgrim Rest, and I worked
there three years.
when they came in, who were mainly the people that were working
that time, it was Ms. Hattie Sapho[?], I believe, and Ms.
Josie Patterson[?], and Mr. Percy Whitehead[?].
Were some of them. Were they people who had been active in
of them was. Ms. Julie Ann Mitchell, and Ms. Georgia May Mitchell[?].
Well, everybody at that time was very active in the community
that worked in Head Start.
were some of them people who had had trouble with jobs because
of the movement?
Gatson: I don't
think so, because so many of these people was older and they
just had home jobs and at that time, no teachers, except for
Ms. Magnolia Reed[?] was the only one because we couldn't
get teachers to participate.
In the civil rights movement or in Head Start?
we didn't try to get them in Head Start. But in the movement
itself, it was hard to get teachers to come in.
were a lot of the people who were active in the movement,
were day-workers in homes, or things like that?
most of them was, who were very active, some worked in homes.
Some didn't do anything. You know. And the whole thing started
with people who, maybe, some were retired. Some were just
common people who worked in homes and that's it.
you tell us a little about the Head Start Center in Second
Pilgrim Rest? Did they create a center or did people have
to start from scratch there and just, kind of, create a place,
the community people? Like the playground equipment and all
that kind of stuff? Or, how did it work?
they had to create a place. The building was built from scratch.
local people. I believe, oh, I can't think of his name, built
it. Mr. Gult[?]. Do you remember him?
Gatson: I don't
know his name. But he built it, and from donated lumber and
people did their free time. You know. That's how it started.
Just from nothing. From scratch. And all of the equipment
was donated and made, and we had a lot of homemade equipment
for the children. Like car tire swings and little made see-saws.
But everything started from the ground.
what was the program like? What were you actually doing with
the kids within the CDGM center? What was special about the
way they operated?
what made it so special: it gave black children from age three
to six an opportunity to get a head start on what school would
be like and to get a chance to meet other children and to
be ready for school and to get rid of the fright and got them
used to leaving home and from under their mother's apron.
You know. And it just was a great thing for our children.
And the nutrition part was very good, because the children
got a chance to eat hot meals there. In other words, they
wouldn't have because of working mothers and it was just--.
they get several meals a day?
I know they got two meals. They got breakfast and lunch, every
day. And well-balanced meals.
were the activities varied that the kids did that you were
teaching? I mean, did they have any educational activities
or was it play? What did they do?
was a combination of both. The children played and then they
absolutely had learning. It was teaching going on. And they
taught the children the alphabets and how to write their names
and where they lived. And so many of them learned to read.
Yeah, they learned to read. The children, like five and six
years old, and hadn't really started to school yet. Well,
those children were being taught what they were going to face
in first grade.
That's great. There weren't any kindergartens at that time,
kindergartens at that time. And they had the alphabets and,
well, they were really teaching. Just the three-year-old children
did mostly play.
So, you did some of everything.
some of everything went on with the children at the time.
And they was quite ready back then, for first grade.
we had some smart children back then. When they went to first
grade, they were ready.
were really ready. What happened with CDGM? Was your center
funded year round? Did you all earn salaries? Were there problems
about--? Were there months that you had to fight to get funded?
there were problems with that. We had about three months sometimes
to fight, or wonder would the program be funded for the next
term. And year round.
you were waiting for that, were people getting salaries or
not? Were there periods that you didn't earn a living during
the time when it was out, well, there was no salaries from
there. We just had to wait until we re-funded it and we got
the news that it was re-funded and everybody could go back
when it started in September or August.
OK. But you were off for the summer anyway? Or you were working
some without funds and just putting in your own food and other
things while waiting to get funded?
we did a lot of volunteer work, and how we got food, so long,
was Ms. Riley's[?] grocery store where she would let us have
food and when the program got re-funded, then she was paid.
But other than that --.
she forwarded that, as a black grocer in Durant, right? Black
grocery in Durant?
so they would give you food in advance and then you'd pay
Only Ms. Riley's[?] grocery store, well, she did. She let
them have the food and later got paid.
told me something about a trip that people made about Head
Start and Welfare, that you all had to go and lobby in Congress.
Could you tell us some about that? Who went up?
was in sixty-five and maybe some parts of sixty-six. Well,
mainly we went for the condition of the Welfare system here.
And Head Start, we was going--. Oh, the Welfare system here
was bad, and then some of the Welfare workers were bad. So,
we had to go and challenge these people. We went to the capital,
and who all went? Oh!
from throughout the county who went up?
throughout the county. And out of the county, because we had
people, even from, like, Tate County and just around. It was,
like, three busloads of us went.
organized that? Was that the Freedom Democratic Party?
not sure who organized that one. I think it was the Freedom
three busloads of people went up, all the way to Washington,
D.C. And it was a lot on the Welfare issue. I thought it was
both that. It wasn't both that and the Head Start? This was
the Welfare? Tell me about the conditions that you were speaking
to. What were some of the conditions in the Welfare office
that were so bad that people had to do that?
(There is a brief interruption
in the interview.)
was the phone. Yeah, what were some of the conditions that
people were protesting? That you had three busloads go up
mainly from Holmes County, the issue that I remember was mostly
the Welfare. It was hard for people with children to get Welfare,
and then in some instances, the workers themselves was very
unfair to these single mothers who was on Welfare, and they
was mainly trying to get the Welfare monthly salaries raised
from maybe, if a mother had two children, they didn't get
but, like, $25 a month. And that was for the family. And they
didn't want them working outside because they said they wasn't
eligible for Welfare, and we had one worker here, one of the
Welfare workers that was very ugly to the Welfare people and
spied on them, and we had been trying to get them out of the
county. So, after that we finally got her out of the county.
We were trying to get her completely fired, but they just
took her out of the county. So, she worked in another county.
the same stuff.
doing the same stuff, but at least she was out of Holmes County.
Did they hire better people then?
least, they seemed to have been better, because I think by
going to Washington and by protesting against this particular
woman, changed a lot of their minds that some things in the
laws, they just couldn't do.
Did you go to an agency up in Washington? Like Health Education
Welfare? One of those groups? Something that's over the Welfare?
not just to sit and talk things over. Now, there were people.
Some people who went, but, like, the whole busload of people,
you know, didn't go. They had, like, maybe a group that was
already organized to go and meet with certain people, but
What did the rest of you do?
lobbied and we toured some of the capital, and then mainly
just was out having vigils out in front of the capital. That
it was effective enough to get rid of, at least, this one
it was. It was effective enough to get rid of that one person
and then, they kind of gradually raised the Welfare standards.
did. Do you remember what they raised it up to?
by not really ever being on Welfare, I didn't know that.
it was better than $25 a month for a family of three.
It was a little better than that, and at least, we didn't
have people hiding and spying and trying to see who going
in your house. You know. It was better than that.
And that can be really humiliating.
because, it was ridiculous, because the Welfare program didn't
have anything to do with who visited who. You know. And if
a young woman had a man friend, well, that was none of their
business. But, they wanted to know if you got any help from
anybody else, and if you got any help from anybody else or
from a man or whatever, well, they counted that your income
and made it very hard for some people to get Welfare assistance.
these were the years that a lot of people were very poor and
really having a hard time. So, if they were on Welfare, they
were earning almost nothing.
that was during the time when everybody was really poor and
having hard times. And so many times, people had to, like,
slip and work without them really knowing you working a few
days a week for somebody, and scared somebody going to turn
them in to Welfare. It was just rough.
very hard. Were there groups that went up about CDGM, too.
Or, you weren't part of that? Or you were?
I wasn't, that one, but I think the next year after we went
first, a group did go to Washington, but I didn't go in that
group. So, I couldn't tell you about that.
did you stay with Head Start? You stayed there, you said,
for about three years or so. Why did you finally leave it?
Gatson: I worked
in Head Start three years, and the reason I finally left,
because I had a child and had responsibilities, and I just
couldn't sit around and--
(End of tape 1, side 1. The
interview continues on tape 1, side 2.)
had Stacy? You had your first baby, sixty--? I'm sorry. And,
after a time, you went over to another place to work. Were
you still active in the movement, or was that hard to keep
the time, it was kind of hard to keep up because [I] was still
involved in sixty-six. I was able to go to meetings, and that
was about all I was doing then. We were just attending meetings
in different places. But after that, it got hard to do.
you were working a different kind of job than the Head Start?
It was very different. I was working at a zipper plant.
the name of that?
was Talon Zipper Plant.
was T-A-L-O-N Zipper Plant.
that one of the plants that--? How did they open up to having
black people work there? Was that all white at one point?
one point, it was all white, but until, I don't remember exactly
when it got integrated. What month or year, because people
did have to kind of protest against that, too. And, when it
was different ones sent to fill out applications to see, would
they get turned around, or whatever, well, at that time, I
wasn't working there.
it open up because of protests or did they have to do legal
work? Or, how did it finally open up?
Gatson: I think
because of legal work, and there was a lawsuit put in against
the plant, and finally it opened up to black people as well.
were your working conditions like there? What was that like?
it finally got opened up to everybody, working conditions
there was good, for me. You know. By the time I was there,
well, it was a lot of black people working and they had sent
in this, some man, was the--. Who did I tell you? Well, Mr.
Jim Story[?], at the time, had come down from somewhere.
To manage the place. And he was very nice, and it was good
so I got a chance to work at Talon Zipper eight years.
they pay well? What did they pay like?
that time, it seemed to have been well, because we was only
getting more than we had ever gotten for working, and that
was $1.25 an hour when I started.
That was more than the Head Start?
Because we were getting paid, like, every week, and it was
did that plant--? Did you have to leave that plant or did
that plant close down? What happened?
finally, the first one, closed down and we all had to leave
after they built a much larger plant here in Durant.
fired everybody? You weren't taken back when they built the
They just laid off some people until the larger plant got
built. They didn't fire anybody.
you continued working?
we continued to work there until it went out. (Laughter.)
And then, everybody had to, you know, leave. And I remember.
year was that?
seventy-five. It was in seventy-five, when I left.
was still open, but the people with more seniority was the
ones that stayed later. Like I had only eight years, and some
was there twenty and whatever years, so, the younger people,
as far as the years, was the first ones to get laid off. And
we just had to rely on unemployment.
much was unemployment then?
me, my unemployment was $42.00 a week.
that point, you had two children?
at that point, I had two. And I was off about, I guess about
six or seven months, and finally I got hired at the hospital.
you've been at Durant Hospital working as?
I've been at Durant Hospital working in the Dietary Department
from 1975 or seventy-six, I think, up until now. Under a different
administration, though. I worked nineteen years when it was
District Two Community Hospital, and when that went out, the
University of Mississippi took over, and I've been there five
years. That's it.
happened, when you were working with the Head Start, and then
you moved over to Talon? You weren't able to keep up as much
with the movement? Is that what happened? That you had responsibilities
yes, that was the real--. Mainly, that was it. The reason
I couldn't keep up with the movement. Because of this baby
and my father was old and sick, so, I couldn't keep up like
Tell me what the Head Start, when you were at the Head Start,
a lot of the people were still active in the community as
well as Head Start workers? I mean, they were working at the
Head Start, and were they also going to meetings and helping
do the Freedom Democratic Party and working with the voting
during that time, practically everybody was very active in
working with the Head Start and Voting Act, and all
that. Yes, everybody was still active during that. I was still
going to meetings, still holding meetings out at Second Pilgrim
they continue to be held outside of Durant in a church because
of fear here on the part of the ministers? You started to
say that there weren't churches open within Durant, the town
of Durant. Was that fear of ministers of being involved? Or
did it eventually open up here in the city?
they didn't ever open up. After they had built that Head Start
Center, well, that was just the community center for everything.
So, the churches here in Durant never was.
the meetings were out there before.
do you see things now, for, like people of the ages that you
were? Like late teens, early twenties, in terms of movement?
Or do you see them as interested in voting? How do you see
those kids now coming up, that were like the age that you
were during that time?
Gatson: I see
the children coming up at that age very critical because this
day and time, they don't think about voting. They don't know
the hardship that people went through trying to get people
registered to vote and they just, the younger people just
don't, they don't seem to care. They don't seem to think the
system is for them, and it's very critical.
guess most, you see them as feeling more hopeless about their
future? Or not?
very hopeless nowadays.
would you contrast that with how you all felt? You said it
was exciting and the movement meant a lot to you. How did
you feel then, about change or about future or about, you
know, about what the movement could accomplish?
to me, it was exciting because we wanted change. And it was
so critical back then, until anything was to get out of this
situation, and it was very exciting to me to get out of this
situation, but the children now didn't have to go through
none of the hardships that our families and all went through,
so, they don't know the importance just getting up going to
register. It's so many still unregistered. And to get up and
go and vote. They don't seem like it's important. They always
say, "Well, my vote won't count." But, when black people couldn't
vote and then trying to get registered to vote, it was very
exciting. And after getting black people registered to vote,
and now the younger people came along, and it just seemed
like all of it was in vain. It really seem like it was in
vain, with this day and time.
with the changes in black people taking on offices and becoming
superintendents of schools or election officials and all of
that? They don't see that as any kind of model of anything?
with the young people, because--. And then, even so, (inaudible)
the ones that's getting into offices and all that, they're
still going on what happened back then. And if it hadn't been
for people in the sixties trying to open the doorway for this,
it never would have been, but they just think, "Well, it was--."
Some of them (inaudible). They don't look back and see the
importance of it, and how it got to come by. They don't look
back at that.
don't know about the hardships that came before?
Even if they knew about it, like so many, I'll say, teachers.
Well, they wouldn't have anything to do with the movement.
They wasn't involved. And then, when everything got--. The
ice got broken, then the poor, uneducated
people broke this ice. And as time progressed, then the educated
people came in and just like, you know, rooted out the uneducated
people. Everything now is based on the education and the this
and the that, and it just, like--.
saying that they profited from it? That they were--?
I think they did. They profited from--. The educated people
really did profit from uneducated people putting their lives
on the line for them, and got kind of like shut out. You know.
some of the people that were active then, did they at least
keep Head Start jobs over the years?
of them, until they--. Some retired and some still working.
Yeah, they still kept the Head Start jobs.
was that a little bit better than what they had had before?
far as job? Much better. And then, see, Head Start, when it
came in, that opened the door for a lot of people that hadn't
had an opportunity to even make a decent paycheck, up until
Head Start. And I know it was great for me, because I think
my first check was a hundred and something dollars. And that
was it! You know. It was great, because looking at a hundred
and something dollars--.
was like--. I'm trying to remember whether we got paid. We
got paid every two weeks. That's how it was. Every two weeks,
we got whatever we were getting paid. And then, to think getting
like $12.50 and $15.00. Well see, that was a lot.
like double. (Laughter.)
that was double, so that's when it started--
for people to work in Head Start because at least you had
a decent check.
And the work with the kids was something special for you?
me it was, because I got a chance to work mainly with the
children some, but my real job was, which I liked, at that
time we were called resource teachers. And my job was to go
and take sessions at Tougaloo and we had to go to Tuskegee
at the time. And we had to learn what to teach the teachers,
so my job was not to work direct with the children, but to
teach the teachers what to teach the children.
I see. So, you were more of a trainer, or resource person.
A resource person to teach the teachers what to teach the
children. We had to take the training and then teach them
what to teach the children.
you learned a lot from those classes?
It was good. I learned a great deal from that because that's
how we were. I got mine by going to the sessions and then
being in these classes in the sessions, you'll know what to
do to come back and tell the other workers. So, yeah.
the area resources teachers, that was under CDGM? That era?
that time, everybody was under CDGM.
were your grandchildren in Head Start, or did you have any
kids in Head Start?
children went. And after that, oh, even now. Yes, my grandchildren
went to Head Start. Kevin[?] and Devin[?]. But Chris[?] didn't
ever go. At that time they were saying that the parents' income
was maybe too high. Did he go? I don't think Chris got a chance
to go because his mother's income was too high, but Kevin
went. And Devin went. And Chris just went to kindergarten
it give the kids a really good beginning with school?
Some of them. Some it did, and then some it didn't, because
when they left Head Start and went to maybe like first grade
and when kindergarten first started, those children was very--.
They thought they were still in Head Start, and it was a big
turnover for some of them to go from Head Start to kindergarten.
What happened in the kindergarten? I mean, in the first grade?
was the learning part, like in kindergarten, they were learning
to get to go to first grade, and in Head Start, it was altogether
different. And the children just wasn't ready for going. So
many of them, from Head Start to first grade.
I see. They weren't really ready so much.
Because they still had it mixed up that when they was supposed
to have the ability to sit and pay attention. No, so many
children didn't have it because they didn't really have to
just be stricken down like that in Head Start.
wasn't as strict.
was more enabling of the kids?
and then they were free, you know, to do a lot of little things
that they wanted to. As when they went to kindergarten, it
was altogether different. And it made it difficult for some.
So, do you see that as a benefit that came from the movement?
Head Start? Yes. A great benefit.
Then it really was beneficial.
Now, there was one that needed to have been for years. You
know. That was a great thing that happened when they had Head
Do you want to add anything? (Laughter.)
only thing that I would like to add is that I'm grateful,
you know, to have been able to experience some of these conditions
and grateful that I was able to work in some of these conditions.
And so many times, I enjoy talking to my children about it.
About how things were and where I used to work and how they
were. Yeah, I just like that, and I wish Head Start will continue
to be. And that I'll never get a chance to work back in Head
Start; I don't think. I couldn't do it, now, but it was great.
talked to your kids about the movement history?
yeah. And I would tell them about when they see certain movies
and things on TV sometimes, and I'll say, "Well, yeah. We
did this and we marched." And I talk to them a lot about it,
and how we used to go and sit up and be in a meeting, and
how interesting it was, then.
And they'll just say, "Well,
were you one of those?"
I'll say, "Yeah. I was one
of those." And it was interesting.
you're proud to be one of those.
Yes. I am very proud to have been one of those.
great. Well, thanks very much Hattye. OK. Take care now.
(End of the interview.)