An Oral History

With

Hattye Gatson













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.



2000

Biography



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.

Table of Contents



Early childhood 1

Movement beginning in Durant, Mississippi 4

Voter registration work 5

Klan cross burnings 6

Initial movement meetings in Durant 7

Segregated eateries 7

Boycott 8

Hospital segregation 8

Head Start 11

Welfare 14

Talon Zipper Plant 17

AN ORAL HISTORY



WITH



MS. HATTYE GATSON



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.



Tanzman: I 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 were?



Gatson: OK. I was born May 8, 1942, to Mr. and Mrs. Reagon[?] Gatson in Pickens, Mississippi.



Tanzman: And what was your father doing then?



Gatson: He was a farmer.



Tanzman: Was he working for other people, or on his own farm?



Gatson: He was working for other people and, as he lived on his brother's farm, he worked, you know. But he never owned his own.



Tanzman: Did both your folks raise you?



Gatson: My father raised me. My mother died when I was the youngest, and he just raised three of us.



Tanzman: You have two siblings?



Gatson: Yes, I have two other sisters with my mother, but my father had eleven.



Tanzman: Oh, from a previous?



Gatson: Yes. He had eight children with his first wife and three of us.



Tanzman: OK. 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?



Gatson: The early part of my life was in Durant. The community was still Durant, and that's where I've been all my life.



Tanzman: But, were you out in the country or near here, in the town of Durant? Early on.



Gatson: The early years out in the country. Small community named Gauge's[?] Spring.



Tanzman: And what kind of school did you go to out there? You and your sisters.



Gatson: Well, 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.



Tanzman: Here, being to Durant?



Gatson: To Durant. Yeah. We moved to Durant, and I went to school here.



Tanzman: What was the school like? Was it a very tiny school? Or a large school? This was, at that time, the black school. Right? The segregated school.



Gatson: Yes. 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.



Tanzman: OK. And, Hattye, did you graduate from that high school?



Gatson: Yes.



Tanzman: When was that?



Gatson: In 1963. From Durant Attendance Center.



Tanzman: Was your father working here in Durant, then, or out on the farm still?



Gatson: No, 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.



Tanzman: OK. 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?



Gatson: Yes. I worked some summers, and going to school. I think I started working, like, my junior year, in private homes and babysitting.



Tanzman: What kind of wages were they paying?



Gatson: The highest I made was $15.00, and the lowest was $12.50.



Tanzman: For a day?



Gatson: A week.



Tanzman: A week. For full-time work?



Gatson: Yes, that was it. Twelve, fifty, and we got fifteen later on in the sixties. Fifteen dollars a week.



Tanzman: And you were working like a grown person. You were working the full--.



Gatson: Yes. 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.



Tanzman: And 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?



Gatson: Well, 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.



Tanzman: Do you mean when you bought in the stores? Or restaurants?



Gatson: Not 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.



Tanzman: Did kids do that?



Gatson: No, 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.



Tanzman: OK. 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?



Gatson: It 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.



Tanzman: And 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?



Gatson: Well, we had Fitz Mullen, Bob Lower, Diane Wagner[?].



Tanzman: It's 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-?



Gatson: O-W-E-R.



Tanzman: And they came as volunteers? Freedom Democratic Party?



Gatson: Yes, as volunteers. And then some more. Yep. I done forgot. They came in 1965, and they worked in the Durant area.



Tanzman: And were you out of high school by then?



Gatson: Yes, 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.



Tanzman: You mean, when you were watching, was that the Selma, Alabama movement?



Gatson: Yes. It was the Selma, Alabama movement.



Tanzman: And you couldn't wait to join it.



Gatson: Couldn't 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.



Tanzman: Did you want to get in it to--? Did you see it as a way of changing everything?



Gatson: Yes, 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 registered.



Tanzman: When did you first try to go down to register?



Gatson: Well, 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.



Tanzman: Was that because of the poll taxes or the literacy tests?



Gatson: It 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.



Tanzman: Mm-hm. Was the circuit court clerk McClellan then?



Gatson: Yes. Mr. Henry McClellan at the time.



Tanzman: How did he treat people when they went in to try to register in the early days.



Gatson: Well, 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 to register.



Tanzman: So, 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?



Gatson: Trying 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.



Tanzman: Were they afraid of reprisals against them of what would happen if they went down?



Gatson: Well, 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.



Tanzman: Could you tell us a little about the cross-burning? When did that happen, and where were they burning crosses? What were they doing?



Gatson: Well, 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.



Tanzman: Who were some of the people they were doing that to?



Gatson: Well, 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.



Tanzman: Mm-hm. But the crosses were burned in front of the homes of Viola Winters and Ms. Elra Johnson? Were they very active in the movement?



Gatson: Very 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--.



Tanzman: That's great. So, these were some of the, actually, the elders in the community. They were already in their, probably in their sixties by then?



Gatson: Yes. And then we had one family, elderly man, Mr. Jesse William[?]. You remember him?



Tanzman: Mm-hm.



Gatson: And 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.



Tanzman: Did they begin by meeting in homes more than in churches?



Gatson: Yes. 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.



Tanzman: Mm-hm. Did it take quite a while to get a church within Durant to meet?



Gatson: We 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.



Tanzman: Let's 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 time?



Gatson: Yes, I was doing that and then, that was it, mainly, back in the sixties, was trying to get people registered to vote.



Tanzman: Mm-hm. 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 to register?



Gatson: Not 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.



Tanzman: You were boycotting businesses that were segregated, or what were you doing? What was the boycott about?



Gatson: The 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.



Tanzman: Did they serve at all, or did they just have a counter that you had to take out?



Gatson: They had a window, that you went to the window, and you got served through the window, but you couldn't go in and sit.



Tanzman: So, there were big marches that were held downtown about that or was it marches?



Gatson: No, it wasn't too many marches here.



Tanzman: Oh, but you boycotted?



Gatson: Yeah.



Tanzman: How did the boycott develop? Were many people involved in it or did it grow?



Gatson: It grew, and everybody cooperated here so nicely. And they caused businesses to go out, you know.



Tanzman: They went out of business?



Gatson: Yes, 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.



Tanzman: So, it was successful. Did the boycott go on a few months?



Gatson: Yes, 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.



Tanzman: Mm-hm. So, once they integrated, it stayed that way.



Gatson: Yes, it stayed. Once they took the signs out, it stayed integrated like that.



Tanzman: What 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?



Gatson: It 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.



Tanzman: What did the waiting rooms look like, the separate ones?



Gatson: The 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.



Tanzman: Did black people get served equally by the hospital once they were in from the waiting room?



Gatson: Well, now, I don't know too much about that part, because, see, I was never a patient up there until way in the seventies.



Tanzman: OK. But the waiting rooms were an issue, then. And who was--? You told me something about Fitz. Was he involved?



Gatson: Well, 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.



Tanzman: Oh, so he helped organize?



Gatson: Yeah, he had helped to organize that situation with the hospital.



Tanzman: And what happened as a result? They were picketing for awhile?



Gatson: No, I don't think so. They just marched up there.



Tanzman: Mm-hm.



Gatson: For some reason. (Laughter.) But I don't remember because I wasn't in that march.



Tanzman: Were hospital workers involved?



Gatson: Some 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.



Tanzman: And what was the effect on the hospital?



Gatson: Well, 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 colored room.



Tanzman: It was still a colored waiting room till the eighties?



Gatson: Eighties, that's still a little room.



Tanzman: Oh, 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.



Tanzman: So, it was officially integrated but not--?



Gatson: No.



Tanzman: --in practice so much?



Gatson: No. 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.



Tanzman: So, it took a long time.



Gatson: Yeah, 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.



Tanzman: When 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?



Gatson: It was a lot of us. Mary Hightower, Clarence Stamper[?], and Peter Groves[?]. All these were younger people, and--.



Tanzman: From the community in Durant?



Gatson: Yes, and from--. Ms. Hattie Bell's Sapho's[?] daughters.



Tanzman: Oh, yeah. What were their names again?



Gatson: Hattie 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 rural.



Tanzman: Mm-hm. So, it was young people were really playing a big role in helping do this.



Gatson: Yeah, 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--.



Tanzman: So, there were a group of you.



Gatson: Yes, it was a group.



Tanzman: And when there were meetings in the community, you helped organize them? Were you helping to get together people into meetings?



Gatson: Yes. 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.



Tanzman: Mm-hm. You had a good effect.



Gatson: Yeah, we had a good effect on the community.



Tanzman: Yeah. 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?



Gatson: After 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.



Tanzman: The Child Development Group of Mississippi.



Gatson: That was my first real job.



Tanzman: OK. Was that out at Second Pilgrim Rest? Out in the country? The first center?



Gatson: Yes. At that first center at Second Pilgrim Rest, and I worked there three years.



Tanzman: And, when they came in, who were mainly the people that were working there?



Gatson: At that time, it was Ms. Hattie Sapho[?], I believe, and Ms. Josie Patterson[?], and Mr. Percy Whitehead[?].



Tanzman: Mm-hm. Were some of them. Were they people who had been active in the movement?



Gatson: All 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.



Tanzman: And 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.



Tanzman: Mm-hm. In the civil rights movement or in Head Start?



Gatson: Well, we didn't try to get them in Head Start. But in the movement itself, it was hard to get teachers to come in.



Tanzman: Who were a lot of the people who were active in the movement, were day-workers in homes, or things like that?



Gatson: Well, 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.



Tanzman: Could 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?



Gatson: Yes, they had to create a place. The building was built from scratch.



Tanzman: By locals?



Gatson: By local people. I believe, oh, I can't think of his name, built it. Mr. Gult[?]. Do you remember him?



Tanzman: Yeah.



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.



Tanzman: And 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?



Gatson: Well, 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--.



Tanzman: Did they get several meals a day?



Gatson: Yes. I know they got two meals. They got breakfast and lunch, every day. And well-balanced meals.



Tanzman: And 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?



Gatson: It 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.



Tanzman: Mm. That's great. There weren't any kindergartens at that time, were there?



Gatson: No kindergartens at that time. And they had the alphabets and, well, they were really teaching. Just the three-year-old children did mostly play.



Tanzman: Mm-hm. So, you did some of everything.



Gatson: Yeah, some of everything went on with the children at the time. And they was quite ready back then, for first grade.



Tanzman: They were.



Gatson: Yeah, we had some smart children back then. When they went to first grade, they were ready.



Tanzman: They 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?



Gatson: Yes, 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.



Tanzman: When you were waiting for that, were people getting salaries or not? Were there periods that you didn't earn a living during that time?



Gatson: 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.



Tanzman: Oh. 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?



Gatson: Well, 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 --.



Tanzman: So, she forwarded that, as a black grocer in Durant, right? Black grocery in Durant?



Gatson: Yeah.



Tanzman: And so they would give you food in advance and then you'd pay them later?



Gatson: Yes. Only Ms. Riley's[?] grocery store, well, she did. She let them have the food and later got paid.



Tanzman: You 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?



Gatson: That 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!



Tanzman: People from throughout the county who went up?



Gatson: From 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.



Tanzman: Who organized that? Was that the Freedom Democratic Party?



Gatson: I'm not sure who organized that one. I think it was the Freedom Democratic Party.



Tanzman: So, 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.)



Tanzman: That was the phone. Yeah, what were some of the conditions that people were protesting? That you had three busloads go up to Washington?



Gatson: Well, 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.



Tanzman: Doing the same stuff.



Gatson: Yeah, doing the same stuff, but at least she was out of Holmes County.



Tanzman: Mm-hm. Did they hire better people then?



Gatson: At 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.



Tanzman: Mm-hm. Did you go to an agency up in Washington? Like Health Education Welfare? One of those groups? Something that's over the Welfare?



Gatson: No, 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 everybody didn't.



Tanzman: Mm-hm. What did the rest of you do?



Gatson: We lobbied and we toured some of the capital, and then mainly just was out having vigils out in front of the capital. That was it.



Tanzman: And it was effective enough to get rid of, at least, this one person.



Gatson: Yes, it was. It was effective enough to get rid of that one person and then, they kind of gradually raised the Welfare standards.



Tanzman: They did. Do you remember what they raised it up to?



Gatson: No, by not really ever being on Welfare, I didn't know that.



Tanzman: But it was better than $25 a month for a family of three.



Gatson: Yes. 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.



Tanzman: Yeah. And that can be really humiliating.



Gatson: Yes, 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.



Tanzman: And 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.



Gatson: Yes, 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.



Tanzman: Yeah, very hard. Were there groups that went up about CDGM, too. Or, you weren't part of that? Or you were?



Gatson: No, 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.



Tanzman: And, 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.)



Tanzman: You 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 up?



Gatson: At 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.



Tanzman: Because you were working a different kind of job than the Head Start?



Gatson: Yes. It was very different. I was working at a zipper plant.



Tanzman: What's the name of that?



Gatson: It was Talon Zipper Plant.



Tanzman: T-A-L-O-N.



Gatson: It was T-A-L-O-N Zipper Plant.



Tanzman: Is that one of the plants that--? How did they open up to having black people work there? Was that all white at one point?



Gatson: At 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.



Tanzman: Did 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.



Tanzman: What were your working conditions like there? What was that like?



Gatson: When 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.



Tanzman: To be manager?



Gatson: Yeah. 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.



Tanzman: Did they pay well? What did they pay like?



Gatson: At 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.



Tanzman: Mm-hm. That was more than the Head Start?



Gatson: Yes. Because we were getting paid, like, every week, and it was more.



Tanzman: And, did that plant--? Did you have to leave that plant or did that plant close down? What happened?



Gatson: It finally, the first one, closed down and we all had to leave after they built a much larger plant here in Durant.



Tanzman: They fired everybody? You weren't taken back when they built the larger plant?



Gatson: Yes. They just laid off some people until the larger plant got built. They didn't fire anybody.



Tanzman: So, you continued working?



Gatson: Yes, we continued to work there until it went out. (Laughter.) And then, everybody had to, you know, leave. And I remember.



Tanzman: What year was that?



Gatson: In seventy-five. It was in seventy-five, when I left.



Tanzman: And you remember?



Gatson: It 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.



Tanzman: How much was unemployment then?



Gatson: For me, my unemployment was $42.00 a week.



Tanzman: At that point, you had two children?



Gatson: Yes, 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.



Tanzman: And you've been at Durant Hospital working as?



Gatson: Well, 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.



Tanzman: What 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 at home?



Gatson: Well, 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 that.



Tanzman: Mm-hm. 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 rights then?



Gatson: Well, 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 Rest.



Tanzman: Did 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?



Gatson: No, 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.



Tanzman: So, the meetings were out there before.



Gatson: Yeah.



Tanzman: How 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.



Tanzman: I guess most, you see them as feeling more hopeless about their future? Or not?



Gatson: Yes, very hopeless nowadays.



Tanzman: How 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?



Gatson: Well, 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.



Tanzman: Even 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?



Gatson: Not 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.



Tanzman: They don't know about the hardships that came before?



Gatson: No. 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--.



Tanzman: You're saying that they profited from it? That they were--?



Gatson: Yes. 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.



Tanzman: Did some of the people that were active then, did they at least keep Head Start jobs over the years?



Gatson: Most of them, until they--. Some retired and some still working. Yeah, they still kept the Head Start jobs.



Tanzman: So, was that a little bit better than what they had had before?



Gatson: As 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--.



Tanzman: For how long?



Gatson: That 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.



Tanzman: Sounds like double. (Laughter.)



Gatson: Yeah, that was double, so that's when it started--



Tanzman: More than double.



Gatson: --booming for people to work in Head Start because at least you had a decent check.



Tanzman: Yeah. And the work with the kids was something special for you?



Gatson: For 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.



Tanzman: Oh, I see. So, you were more of a trainer, or resource person.



Gatson: Yes. 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.



Tanzman: So, you learned a lot from those classes?



Gatson: Yes. 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.



Tanzman: And the area resources teachers, that was under CDGM? That era?



Gatson: At that time, everybody was under CDGM.



Tanzman: Hattye, were your grandchildren in Head Start, or did you have any kids in Head Start?



Gatson: My 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 in school.



Tanzman: Did it give the kids a really good beginning with school?



Gatson: Yes. 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.



Tanzman: Why? What happened in the kindergarten? I mean, in the first grade?



Gatson: That 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.



Tanzman: Oh, I see. They weren't really ready so much.



Gatson: No. 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.



Tanzman: It wasn't as strict.



Gatson: No.



Tanzman: It was more enabling of the kids?



Gatson: Yeah, 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.



Tanzman: Mm-hm. So, do you see that as a benefit that came from the movement? Really?



Gatson: What Head Start? Yes. A great benefit.



Tanzman: Mm-hm. Then it really was beneficial.



Gatson: Yeah. Now, there was one that needed to have been for years. You know. That was a great thing that happened when they had Head Start.



Tanzman: OK. Do you want to add anything? (Laughter.)



Gatson: The 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.



Tanzman: You talked to your kids about the movement history?



Gatson: Oh, 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.



Tanzman: And you're proud to be one of those.



Gatson: Yes. Yes. I am very proud to have been one of those.



Tanzman: That's great. Well, thanks very much Hattye. OK. Take care now.



Gatson: You're welcome.



(End of the interview.)

 
 

This page created by Instructional Media Unit Webteam, and maintained by Charles Bolton.
iTech
The University of Southern Mississippi
http://www.usm.edu/crdp/index.html | Last updated
25 October 2003 3:37 PM AA/EOE/ADAI