Stephanie Scull Millet
interview 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.
Mrs. Julia Rodgers Holmes was
born May 12, 1950, in Meridian, Mississippi. Her parents are
Bilbo and Claudia Rodgers of Pascagoula, Mississippi. She
is the eldest of seven children.
Holmes has been a full-time
employee with the Jackson-George Regional Library System for
twenty-eight years. She has also worked as a library page
from 1966 to 1969. She was the first black to be employed
by the Jackson-George Regional Library System and served as
the first black branch manager for the city of Moss Point.
She grew up in Pascagoula,
Mississippi, where she was graduated from Carver High School
in 1968 as valedictorian of her class. Holmes received her
bachelor's degree and her master's degree in Library Science
from The University of Southern Mississippi.
Holmes has been involved in
school, community, and library activities for many years and
has received various honors including SRS's Female Outstanding
Citizen of the Year, Mississippi Library Association's Outstanding
Achievement, and NAACP's Dedicated Service and Professionialism
awards. She has served as President of East Park Elementary's
PTA for four terms and has been very active in promoting reading
among elementary and Head Start children.
Holmes has served as chairperson
of the Mississippi Library Association's Library Instruction
Roundtable, Black Caucus Roundtable, and Beta Phi Mu, library
honor society. Locally, Holmes has served as chair of the
Policy Council for the Jackson County Civic Action Committee
and a trustee for the Moss Point City Library.
Currently she serves on the
Board of Directors for the Academy of Hair Design, Jackson
County Red Cross, and the Jackson County Arts Council. She
is also on the planning committee for the city of Moss Point's
Holmes is listed in editions
of Who's Who Among American Women, Who's Who in the World,
and Who's Who in the South and Southwest. She is
a member of Delta Sigma Theta Sorority, the Moss Point-Jackson
County Branch of the NAACP and SCLC.
Holmes is a member of the union
Baptist Church in Pascagoula where she is the church librarian,
a member of the choir, and a teacher of the Junior Class number
three. She resides in Moss Point with her husband William.
They have three children: Tanya who lives in Phoenix City,
Alabama, with her husband Shawn and son Shawn Jr.; Tiffani
who is a sophomore at Tougaloo College; and, Tristan who is
a sixth grader at East Park Elementary in Moss Point.
Public schooling in segregated
Early experiences of racism
Pascagoula freedom school 6
Carver High School 8
Higher education 10
Emmett Till 14
Brown v. the Board of Education
Registering to vote 16
Boy Scouts 19
Freedom Summer, 1964 20
Public schooling in integrated
AN ORAL HISTORY
This is an interview for
the Civil Rights Documentation Project. The interview is with
Ms. Julia Holmes and is taking place on May 26, 2000, in Moss
Point, Mississippi. The interviewer is Stephanie Scull Millet.
is an interview for the Civil Rights Documentation Project
of Tougaloo College and The University of Southern Mississippi.
The interview is with Ms. Julia Holmes, and it is taking place
on May 26, 2000, in Moss Point, Mississippi. The interviewer
is Stephanie Scull Millet. And, first, I'd like to thank you,
Ms. Holmes, for taking time to talk with me today. And I'd
like to get some background information, which is what we
usually do, and ask you: could you tell me your name and where
and when you were born, please?
name is Julia Rodgers Holmes, and I was born in Meridian,
Mississippi, on May 12, 1950 [at] Mattie Hersee Hospital there,
in that small town.
just had a birthday.
Holmes: I turned
Holmes: A milestone.
is a milestone. And do you have brothers or sisters?
yes. I have many. And we really enjoy each other.
you want to tell me who they are?
Holmes: I have
Robert Rodgers who lives in Pascagoula. He was born December
22, 1951. Larry Rodgers, who lives in Pascagoula, also. He
was born April 24, 1953. Billy Rodgers, who lives in Pascagoula,
[was] born October 12, 1956. Pamela Rodgers Hull was born
October 27, 1957, and she lives in Moss Point. And I have
Gloria Rodgers Watkins, who lives in McDonough, Georgia, and
she is the only person that lives off. She was born December
1, 1961. And my youngest brother Michael Rodgers, who was
born April 30, 1964.
where do you fall in order?
Holmes: I am
the queen bee. (Laughter.)
that make a difference when you were growing up? Did you find
that you had to kind of mother those younger siblings?
Holmes: I mothered
them, and I feel like I'm a very strong individual. I took
care of them a lot, but they always tended to want to protect
me a lot.
So, even though they were younger, they wanted to protect
their older sister?
wanted to protect me. Well, I have three brothers under me,
which may make a difference. But everybody kind of caters
to me, still. (Laughter.)
a great position to be in. Well, tell me something about your
parents. Your mother's name and when and where she was born.
mother's name is Claudia Morris Rodgers, and she was born
in Hickory, Mississippi. And she was born January 14, 1932.
is she still living?
is still living.
your father's name and when and where he was born?
name is Bilbo Rodgers, and he was born in Louisville, Mississippi,
and he was born November 13, 1924. He was born in Louisville,
Mississippi, but he lived in Inverness, Mississippi; Indianola,
Mississippi; and Decatur, Mississippi.
how did your parents make a living? What was it like to grow
up in their household?
had a wonderful childhood, filled with love. And my mother
was a homemaker, so, she did everything for us as far as taking
care of us. And that was a big undertaking for a family of
seven, but we did have our chores. But I just think that she
had to do a lot, because she ironed our clothes in the crudest
way. She even starched our clothes and put them in the crisper
[in the refrigerator, sprinkling water over the starched items.]
I don't know just how she did it, but she starched everything.
And I just thought that was very good. And I can appreciate
it as an adult, that she did that much for us. But, my mother
was a very good mother. And my father worked at International
Paper Company for thirty-five years as a porter. And he also
had worked as a truck driver. And Daddy also worked part-time
as a longshoreman. And he did odd jobs such as yard work to
make extra money.
Mm-hm. So, he had more than one job at one time.
He had several jobs at one time.
you have children, now?
Holmes: I do
have children. My youngest is Tristan, and he's eleven years
old. And he goes to school at East Park Elementary School.
My youngest daughter is Tiffani, and she is nineteen years
old. She is a sophomore at Tougaloo College, and she is majoring
in chemistry, which is an odd route. Usually people major
in biology or pre-med, but she aspires to be a doctor. And
my daughter Tanya who is thirty--she turned thirty on the
twenty-fifth, just a few days ago; yesterday, in fact--lives
in Phoenix City, Alabama, and her husband is stationed at
Fort Benning, Georgia.
is a Gemini. I was born May 24. No. She may be a Taurus. It
changes right around in there.
a Gemini. Anthony who was raised as my son, is actually my
stepson. He died May 6, 1991, at the age of twenty-six of
leukemia. And he had been in the hospital at Johns Hopkins,
so he received very good care. He just didn't make it.
a tough disease. A very tough disease.
had just gotten married and was doing real good. His wife
was a nurse, and they just had a perfect marriage for the
I'm really sorry to hear that he was called away so early,
but happy to know that he did have that happiness with his
wife for a little while.
And, where did you actually
grow up, Julia?
I was born in Meridian, that's about all I know about Meridian,
because actually, I say that I grew up in Pascagoula because
my father moved my mother and me to Pascagoula when I was
three months old.
Where did your father and mother meet?
met after he got out of the service. He lived in Decatur,
and she lived in Hickory, which are just a few miles apart.
And I'm glad that they met because if he had stayed in the
Delta, they probably never would have met. But they're good
parents, and they're sweet people.
old were they when they got married?
mother was eighteen, and my daddy was twenty-four.
old were you and your husband?
Holmes: I was
nineteen, and my husband was twenty-four.
real close to how your parents were. But that's young, I think,
for a young woman to be married. But you seem to have done
it real well.
lasted thirty years, my husband and I. (Laughter.)
what was it like for you to grow up in Mississippi?
I grew up in a household full of love, and my parents were
always helping people. They're known for their real--I shouldn't
say philanthropic--acts, but they are just real helpful. They
couldn't always help with money, but they could always help
them by doing chores for them and giving them food and so
forth, because we always, even though we were real poor, we
always had plenty of food. I can never remember going hungry.
And I had teachers who loved me, and they treated me real
special. And while we had separate but unequal facilities,
our principal Mrs. Earnestine Fountain took a special interest
in us, and she would just do things with her own money like
taking us to different events such as spelling bees, Four-H
Club camps, and talent shows and so forth. She always wanted
her little school, which was Skip Street Elementary, to be
represented, and most of these events were held in parts of
the state that were far away, such as the northern part, [and]
the central part of the state. And I just really felt nurtured
by my teachers, and the teachers that stand out are all of
my elementary teachers, which were Ms. Hicks, Ms. Sowell,
Ms. Burney, Ms. Nettles, Ms. Wilson, and Ms. Wyatt. And my
librarian is one who I adored. She was Ms. Jennings, and she
always let me check out books, when she wouldn't let others
check out. (Laughter.) I just loved to read, and my principal,
who is still living, always brags that she could never keep
me supplied with enough books. I would get books off the bookmobile.
And I would get books from the library even because they even
allowed us to come to the library because the bookmobile books
just didn't suffice. We had reading contests, my friends and
I. It would be Janice Sowell, Marilyn Sowell, and I, and it
was nothing for us to read in excess of a hundred books every
That's a lot.
my church was a fun place, too. I dare not let my church go
unnoticed because it was a very fun place during that time.
church is it?
Holmes: I went
to Union Baptist Church, and that's where I've always gone,
I've never changed. We would have plays, recite poems, learn
the Bible. And we could go to [the house of our preacher,]
Reverend G.J. Martin, and he would play the piano, and we'd
sit around the piano and sing. These were the nice times.
But sometimes, if we ventured outside of our home, our church,
or our school, we would not have such a good time. In fact,
you might say that it was like living in Northern Ireland
at certain points in my life because rocks would be thrown
at us, foul matter would be thrown from school buses. We would
never know what we would encounter, and we learned how to
walk far enough off the road to avoid certain situations.
And the girls thought that they had it bad, but the boys really
had it bad. They couldn't come across town to study with us
in peace. You know. Sometimes they'd escape being harmed,
but a lot of times they'd have rocks thrown at them. They'd
be beaten up trying to come and date us. Sometimes they'd
come--just be walking home from football practice, and they'd
be harmed. And they'd come to school the next day kind of
beaten up. But this was life in segregated Pascagoula.
so, these were Caucasians who were perpetrating the harassment
and criminal acts?
And one of my white friends, they would encounter that, also,
but I think that that was just very rare for them. It was
rare for us, but it was more frequent for us than it was for
them. But David Miller and I sit down all the time, and we
talk race. And he says that when they'd venture into the black
communities, that they would be subjected to the same thing.
But I just don't think it was as frequent as what we encountered.
You mentioned that your mother did a lot of work. Did you
all have any chores at all when you were growing up?
yes. We had chores, but it was just that my mother had so
many more chores than we did. In fact, I always helped her
out with the children. That was just my responsibility. And
the year that they had the freedom school was the only time
that I felt like I neglected her because I tried to help her
with the younger kids. My brother, Michael, had just been
born that year, and I just would go to the freedom school
a whole lot because I just loved listening to their stories
and just meeting somebody different. They were just really
interesting, because I had never been out of Mississippi,
and they just had such interesting stories to tell. And they
were just so intelligent and so smart and everything. And
they taught us freedom songs and showed us films, and we knew
that there was--. They showed us that there were better places
Millet: A different
way of doing things that was integrated and not separate,
isolated, and segregated.
Mm-hm. And we learned about Boston and New York and just a
lot of places. And Howard University. And we wanted to be
So, they were role models for you.
Definitely. And they were so courageous.
you think so at the time, that they were courageous? Do you
remember anything specific that made you think that?
after the civil rights workers were killed, my respect for
them went up 300 percent.
Chaney, Goodman, and Schwerner [were murdered]?
But I always thought that they were courageous, because later
I learned that some of the parents insisted that their children
the murders? After the [murders] of those three workers?
And some of them didn't, still.
parents were so frightened for their children at that point,
that they had to withdraw support in that way.
Mm-hm. Right. And there was a cross burned at our freedom
school that we had. It was only open for about two months,
but they did a lot of good.
you remember the address of the freedom school?
was Dupont Avenue. It was directly behind--not directly behind
our [home], but kind of cattycornered behind our--not behind
our school, behind our home. We lived on Skip. It was--.
directly, but almost directly behind our [home]. Yes, in Pascagoula.
Millet: I know
you and I had talked about that photograph on the cover of
looked exactly [like the freedom school located on Dupont
love to know. I'm going to try to find out where that was
taken. You mentioned the library. Was that your school library,
or were you talking about a public library?
I used my school library, and I was a library assistant there.
And Ms. Mattie Jennings was the librarian, and she was just
very nice to me. But I can never remember being treated unfairly
at the public library. We would walk about a mile or so to
it integrated? Or was it all black?
never denied us service, so that was good enough. So, I never
noticed that I was treated shabbily or anything, because we'd
check out our books with no problem.
you limited in the times you could go in? Were there white
patrons in there when you were going in?
I just don't remember being treated wrong.
interesting. You know, probably, from Sandra Adickes, in Hattiesburg--.
I know. I've spoken with most of my colleagues, and they said
that they encountered problems, but I just don't remember
Holmes: I really
don't. Because we checked out many, many books from that library.
again, you know, I have to wonder if it has something to do
with the coastal area just being a little more liberal, maybe.
Where and when did you attend school?
Holmes: I attended
Skip Street Elementary, and I entered Skip Street Elementary
in 1956. And I graduated from Carver High School as covaledictorian
did your schools integrate?
were you in school at that time?
Holmes: I was
out of school.
were already out of school. So, you were in an all-black high
whole career in school?
1967 and 1968, there was a push to integrate, and two of my
friends--here's one of them [showing photograph] Janice Sowell
Washington. Janice Sowell, her sister Marilyn, and James Nettles
attended school. I think it was Janice's senior year and Marilyn's
they were the first ones to go over to the white school?
And Marilyn was my classmate. And I know that I didn't want
to go to Pascagoula High because I wanted to be valedictorian.
I was really striving for that, and I knew that there would
be no chance for me to do that at Pascagoula High.
do you recall from your friends? Did they talk to you about
definitely. I don't remember all of them, but they would just
tell me horror stories.
you remember any of them?
being treated real badly. Just called a lot [of terrible names.]
Of course, they made [some] wonderful friends.
lasting friends. But then the bad times, I'm sure, overshadowed
the good things.
There were probably more people who were unfriendly than friendly.
Millet: I wonder
if they feel that their educations suffered because they had
so much stress, you know, so much emotional fallout. Do you
have any idea about that?
Holmes: I think
that they did say that their grades plummeted, and they were
very intelligent girls. [And] we had all just kind of been
[friendly competitors.] They were the ones who I had the reading
contest with, and they were extremely intelligent. And later
on in life, they went to college at a predominantly white
school, and they excelled. But it was during that time that
their grades just really dropped.
Yeah. Well, what did you study? What were your favorite subjects
in high school?
I took college preparatory classes. I think that my teachers
always knew that I wanted to go to college. And I took biology
which was my favorite. Algebra was a favorite of mine. Chemistry.
I loved English, geometry, history, and I took physics in
my senior year. I was the only girl in my senior class to
home economics was required at my school, but I escaped home
economics. (Laughter.) My husband took home economics, but
I never took it. He can sew really well. Yes.
did you escape it?
they let me take the college prep and home ec just didn't
fit in. And I was the only girl in the history of that school
that didn't take home economics. So, needless to say, I'm
a lousy housekeeper, (laughter) and I'm a lousy seamstress,
and everything else.
my goodness. Well, I did take home economics, but my house
looks like a tornado went through it! (Laughter.)
So, did your school stay in
session, or did it close during certain seasons?
September through May.
fortunate. There are so many people who--.
Because my mother didn't graduate because of that. Well, they
didn't have a twelfth grade. And she was extremely intelligent
and never got the chance to graduate.
get to finish. Yeah. Just because school didn't go that far.
I know you went on to get some university degrees, so, could
you tell us about your higher education?
I have to? (Laughter.)
you don't have to. (Laughter.)
I will. My first year was a nightmare, a complete nightmare.
I had been valedictorian of my class, but my grades were just
horrible that year.
did you go?
Holmes: I went
to Mississippi Gulf Coast Junior College, Jackson County Campus.
I got [offered] lots of scholarships, but I just didn't feel
like I was ready to leave home.
old were you?
Holmes: I was
because I'd received a pretty decent ACT score, and I had
been covaledictorian of my class, and I didn't have to take
any remedial classes, so, my advisor just piled on the courses.
I didn't know at the time that I had a say-so in what I could
take, so, I was even taking trig, something I had never had.
And I didn't know that I could wait on this, so, I couldn't
wait to get out of college. Because I knew that I was never
going to go back again. So, after about four years of coercing
and preaching to me, my old teachers and all, I finally
[entered] J.C. again, and I made straight A's that
do you think was the critical difference?
understanding and no tolerance. I think it was just a time
when the teachers didn't understand the black students, and
we didn't understand them. So, it was just--. I think, in
four years there had just been a turnaround, and people on
both sides were just being more tolerant of each other.
year was it? Do you remember?
sixty-eight, and sixty-nine. That school term. It was a nightmare!
Just a very [depressing time.]
when did you go back?
Holmes: I went
back in 1972 and got my A.A. degree.
you specialize at that point? Or, is it just--? That's the
Associate in Arts?
Holmes: I think
I did it in science because I--. Well, I think it was science.
I may have changed by then. I can't remember. It seems like
I took a lot of education by that time. But I had wanted to
be a doctor. I did not want to be a librarian. (Laughter.)
I thought it took--. I had always admired my librarian, but
I did not want to be a librarian. But God had other plans,
and I'm glad I did.
about your advisor around sixty-eight and sixty-nine, was
that African-American or white?
it was a male?
He was a minister, [but] I just didn't find the compassion
there. Of course, I did have some really good teachers during
that time who made an impact on me, and that was Dr. Turney,[?]
who taught speech; Dr. Ello, who taught me music. Well, no,
I was in his choir. And Mr. Ruddiman,[?] who taught me sociology.
And I really liked them.
what happened in between 1969 and seventy-two? You got married?
Holmes: I got
did you meet your husband?
Holmes: I had
always known him.
Wow. So, all your lives you knew each other?
And he had come back from the service, and he was divorced.
So, we met one summer, and we married. We married within months.
you've been married thirty years?
really wonderful. So, did you have any children in between
sixty-nine and seventy-two?
I had Tanya, and Tanya was born in 1970.
Well, Anthony, my stepson, already--. He came with the marriage.
that's right. He just came along with the territory. So, you
went back to school as a mother of two?
a mother of two. And I applied to go to Southern after graduation,
and I could not get a loan. I was not working, and my husband
was making $64.00 a week, and I had two children. And I could
not get a grant. And that was during the time that everybody
was getting grants to go back to college. And I wanted to
go to USM, but I could not get one.
you feel that was racial discrimination?
Holmes: I just
didn't know what it was. No, because, I don't think that was
don't think so?
I don't think that was the case. I just didn't get one.
Was there a Gulf Coast satellite, then?
would have had to commute to Hattiesburg.
Turney took a liking to me, and we would go up to Jackson
and try to fight for a degree-granting institution. In his
education class--. He taught me education, and he taught me
speech. And for that many years, we had been trying to fight
for the degree-granting institution on the Coast, because
I said I would never go to Southern, or drive back and forth
to Southern, rather. Well, never say, "Never." Because that's
what I ended up doing. (Laughter.) But, we've been fighting
that long. You see, [even] now, we're still having trouble
in the news.
an old battle.
I would have been waiting until now, if I hadn't got off my
duff and tried to do something.
after you were turned down for a grant, what happened after
I just made it up in my mind that I would work, and when I
got ready, I would pay for every bit of my education. And
with the exception of getting the first--. I was the first
person to ever get the Friend[?] Scholarship, which was $175.00.
I paid for every bit of education, every bit of my undergrad
degree. Now, I had this guardian angel who had other plans
for me, and her name was Dr. [Lora] Long. And she paid for
two courses for me to start my master's program.
fabulous. Dr. Long lived where?
lived in Hattiesburg. And she was a professor at USM.
science. And she pushed me all the way through my undergrad
degree, all the way through my master's degree, sometimes
short of cursing me out when I wanted to give up. (Laughter.)
But I did earn my bachelor's and my master's degree, and I'm
proud to say that I'm a member of the International Honor
Society, International Library Honor Society, Beta Phi Mu,
for which you have to have a 3.7 or above.
is really remarkable.
point seven five, or above.
you had another child.
Each time I ever tried to get an ounce of education, I would
get pregnant. So, every time I'd start school, I'd get pregnant.
So, I have a bachelor's baby, and a master's baby. (Laughter.)
Millet: I don't
know how you did it. My hat's off to you. I don't think I
could have done it. That's really remarkable.
I had a bad wreck that I got not a scratch, the last day of
my master's program.
And you walked away from it without--?
a scratch, and I could have been just injured really bad,
because I totaled my car.
Well, that's got us up to your master's degree. I think we'll
just backtrack a little bit, and I'm going to make a note
to come back to, what path did you take after the master's.
I'll note, "Master's. Then what?"
But, just to backtrack a little
bit, is there an incident that stands out in your memory that
started your awareness of racism? Racial differences?
I've always been a nosy child, or maybe I should say an inquisitive
child. I would hear my parents whispering about the news of
the day, and I noticed that one day when I was about five
or six years old, they were mentioning Emmett Till being killed
because he had whistled at this white woman. Well, I vowed
then, that I wouldn't whistle around any white person--I had
just got it all mixed up in my mind--because I was afraid
that I might be killed. You know. And that was just really
terrible, but a few years later, my friend Marilyn Page[?]
said that girls don't get murdered for whistling at white
ladies. Only black boys. And then I started fearing for my
brothers, so, I stayed [frightened] until my mother explained
it to me. And I should have gone to her in the beginning.
I thought that we could be killed just for whistling, you
know. And that was just [horrible.] And that was traumatic.
that was a very real fear for a child. I mean, it's something
that we might think now is, "Oh, isn't that amusing?" But
it's not amusing to the child.
if I hadn't had my ear to the door, I probably wouldn't have
known, but I was always bad about listening.
and, of course, it was real for Emmett Till. You know. Which
just stands out in my mind as one of the ultimate, horrible,
most horrible things I have ever heard of.
I just can't imagine--
Holmes: I know.
kind of human being who could do that. I just can't imagine
But, in a way, it was a real
danger for you. Not only just that you believed it with all
your heart and soul as a five-year-old, but then it really
did happen to a fourteen-year-old, Emmett Till.
you must have started thinking at that time, "What's the difference
here?" You know. "White boys whistle. Why can't black boys?"
and I still have a hard time whistling, now, because it was
just so traumatic to me. Because after she explained to me--and
she was the same age I was--and I should have just gone to
my parents right then, instead of just being really scared.
But I just started worrying about my brothers after that,
because I had three brothers at the time.
you eventually ask your mother?
did she explain it to you?
she explained it just like it was. You know. How he had come
down from Chicago and had allegedly whistled at a white woman
and was dragged off and mangled. And, of course, we'd get
the Jet and all.
The photographs were just horrible. And I think, maybe, I
had seen the photographs before it had been explained to me.
Or I'd seen something that just really, just hit me really.
there was planted there a seed of fear.
would be a tough thing to be rid of. Do you think that still
affects you in any way?
that whistling part, because, I just really don't know. Because
my brothers and sisters know how to whistle all sorts of ways,
but I don't even try to whistle. I can just barely whistle.
Do you think that the court case of Brown v. the Board
of Education had any affect on you?
Not up until I started college did it have an effect on me.
It should have had an effect on me, and integration should
have been started much sooner.
fifty-four. Uh-huh. But Pascagoula wasn't having it. So, our
schools remained segregated until around sixty-seven or sixty-eight.
that was forced by lawsuits and the federal government. Well,
you have been telling me about integrating the schools just
in terms of that misunderstanding with your advisor when you
first went to the junior college.
Did you register to vote?
you successful on your first try?
there a literacy test or poll tax?
different from your father's experience.
me about registering to vote. What was that like?
it was a joyful experience to me.
Went without a hitch?
a hitch. I first voted at the Knights of Columbus building
there any reprisals against you for exercising that right?
by that time, there were none. None that I can remember. Nobody
else during that time that I can remember.
Millet: I know
that I've already talked to your father and his experience
in registering to vote, but that's a different interview,
so, I'm going to go ahead and ask you: were your parents able
to register to vote?
do you know about when that happened?
they don't remember. I've talked with them about that, and
they don't remember.
what was that like for your parents?
did have to pay the poll tax, and they did have to take the
were they successful on their first attempts?
wasn't. And I'm not sure that my mother was, but they vote
in everything, now. (Laughter.)
vote in everything.
so do I.
That's great. I'm really glad.
Well, in terms of Pascagoula,
just describing the climate in Pascagoula, was it segregated
around jobs and public accommodations?
you remember that? What was that like?
Holmes: I can
remember that there were "blacks only" jobs. The only jobs
that I can remember that blacks have held for a long time
have been in the health field. And I know one person who used
to work at City Lumber, and she worked there before integration,
before mass integration. But life in segregated Pascagoula
was very tough. We had to use the restrooms before we went
anywhere. We had to just kind of plan our
strategies because otherwise we might have to stop on the
side of the road, and really we feared being arrested for
indecent exposure because we had to go in the bushes. And,
you know, surely they'd know what we were doing. But we used
to have to really plan on how we were going to use the bathroom.
And kids these days take everything
for granted: they can eat anywhere they want to; they can
go to the bathroom anywhere they want to. But we just really
had to do some tall planning, and we would have to take lunch
meat and cheese and crackers and stuff on our trip because
we usually, on our way to our grandmother's in central Mississippi,
we couldn't stop and eat anywhere we wanted.
We had a bookmobile at our
library, that came around for our school, but we could go
to the library that was located on Krebs Avenue. And there
were separate waiting rooms at the doctor's office, one of
them that we went to, which was within walking distance from
our home. But we could go to the black doctor's office and
not have to do that. But that's when we could catch a ride.
But if my dad was working or something, we'd have to walk
to the doctor.
when you were sick?
because my mother didn't drive.
me, just one second. (There is a brief interruption in the
So, there are several questions
that arise for me, I guess, when I hear you talking about
segregation at that time. First of all, it was extremely inconvenient
to have to plan something as basic as where you're going to
eliminate, [and] something as basic as, "Where am I going
to get food?" Very inconvenient, but there must have been
some fear that accompanied, you know, all that planning. [For
example,] "Well, you know, what would happen if the car broke
down, and we had to stop?" Or just, "What would happen if
the food spoiled, and we were hungry? What would we do?" Do
you remember some sort of feeling like that that went with
all those plans?
time I can remember going through Beaumont, Mississippi, and
just out of nowhere, this man just--I guess, he was directing
traffic or something, I can't remember. But he just said,
"Stop, boy! Didn't you see me?" He just said something that
was really humiliating to my dad. And he came to screeching
halt. But we didn't even see him before that. But he said,
"Stop, boy!" And I can just remember things like that. And
having to stop. And I was real young then, so I really don't
remember exactly, but that occurred a lot. "Boy, didn't you
hear me?" Or such and such.
did that change over your lifetime at some point?
yes. It didn't happen here because my dad was really respected
here. And it didn't happen to us unless there was somebody
that didn't know us. Because my girlfriend's dad worked at
Calvary Baptist Church, and she was well known. We were good,
law-abiding kids, and we never got in any trouble, so, people
liked us, and we had a lot of white friends.
also thinking about what you said about going to the physician's
office, and having to walk, even when you were sick. Being
in separate waiting rooms. Did you feel like the physician
saw you last? That if white patients came in, you were going
to have to wait?
I think Dr. Hicks, while he had separate waiting rooms, I
think he [treated] us fairly. And I think he was just doing
what the status quo was. I don't think that he was really
racist, but he did talk real loud, so everybody knew your
he was a pretty good man, because I can remember following
him to Alabama, whenever he moved over there.
you aware of the policies at hospitals? Did you ever have
to enter the hospital as a child?
Whenever I'd almost have to go to the hospital, Dr. Morris
would come and make a house visit, because I can remember
having pneumonia really bad and feeling that he saved my life
a couple of times.
was Dr. Morris a white doctor?
black doctor in town. Mm-hm.
my husband had an incident where he was coming from a scouting
event in Wiggins, Mississippi, and the bus driver--my husband
thought since he was an Eagle Scout and he and his brother
were in their uniforms, that they could possibly sit up front.
But [the bus driver] said in a gruff voice, "Move to the back."
And this affected my husband really bad because he thought
that since they were the only ones on the bus that, you know,
they should have been allowed to sit closer to the front.
they were on a public transportation bus. The only ones. In
their Boy Scout uniforms.
he still told them to move to the back.
to the back.
was a time when bus drivers carried guns. I don't know exactly
when they stopped doing that, but, yeah, they had that kind
of, the teeth to enforce that kind of discrimination. Do you
happen to know, was your husband's Boy Scout troop segregated
was segregated. Definitely segregated.
any of your sons in Scouts?
my son is.
is it integrated now?
Well, his troop isn't, but it's very much integrated.
There have been some changes.
they have their choices, too. There are several troops that
are integrated, but his just happens not to be.
that's by the choice of the membership?
He could go to Harry McDonald[?], who is a good friend of
mine, and he's a white guy who loves my son. He could go to
his troop any time he felt like it.
Well, what can you tell me about Freedom Summer of 1964 on
the Mississippi Gulf Coast?
Holmes: I loved
Freedom Summer. I loved the people. And it's the only time
I can remember just not really helping my mother to the fullest
capacity because I just lived every minute; I jumped the fence
and just lived over to the freedom school. And I was very
disappointed that it only lasted for two months. I can remember
them canvassing black neighborhoods, trying to get people
to vote. I can remember them at night, they would have mass
meetings trying to plan the next day and that they'd sing.
And I can remember that their meetings would consist mainly
of high school to people about twenty-five years old. There
were very few people who were older than that.
my brothers and I loved to talk to them because
they were so interesting, and we'd just be like their little
slaves because we just loved them so much,
and we would always ask them how we could help them.
You were anxious to help.
old were you that year?
Do you remember where the mass meetings were?
were held--. I don't know the difference between the mass
meetings, but they would have meetings at the place on Dupont.
It must have been a COFO office.
Holmes: I think
so. The one that's on the cover of that [book Local People].
Must have been. And that was a summer when there was a lot
of cooperation between SNCC, SCLC, the NAACP, and CORE, and
it was all kind of under that big umbrella of COFO.
I had said that I was going to research every one of those
acronyms. (Laughter.) Because I know one is Congress of Racial
SCLC is the something. See, I can't remember it.
I belong to that.
Holmes: I do.
did you join?
been a member for about five years, now.
great. And how about the NAACP?
since the early eighties or late seventies.
are important organizations.
And what about the struggle
to integrate the Mississippi Gulf Coast beaches?
I don't know much about it. But I know that Dr. [Gilbert]
Mason's car was burned as a result of that, because my husband
told me about that. I didn't take part in the integration
of the beaches. And I don't ever remember going to Biloxi
beaches until the late sixties, and I didn't dare go to ours
until about that time.
I think in The Smell of Burning Crosses, Ira Harkey
alludes to the maids who would take the white kids down to
the beaches, and I think he said that they could wade with
the kids, but they couldn't look like they enjoyed it.
he was a wonderful writer, and I have his book in there.
how do you spell his name? I'm not familiar with him.
H-A-R-K-E-Y. And he's a Pulitzer prizewinner.
Smell of Burning Crosses?
don't know that book?
Millet: I can
hardly wait to read it.
civil rights of this area.
I remember that you told me you went to the freedom school
in secret. Your parents didn't want you to go over there?
now that my dad has [talked to you.] He probably realized
it, and Mama probably realized it.
(End of tape one, side one.
The interview continues on tape one, side two.)
even though your mother needed you at home, she didn't, like,
[take] you aside and insist that you [stay home.] She probably
knew you were at the freedom school, but it was just an unspoken
agreement that it was OK for you to be there.
I just felt so guilty having abandoned her because I'm just
not that way, generally.
was a tough choice to have to make. Well, tell me about your
children and their experiences in Mississippi public schools.
What is it like for them? What are the things that were different
about when you went to school, and maybe there are some things
that are the same?
things that are the same is that they did go to, well, elementary
school, they went to segregated elementary schools. Every
now and then there might be a white child, but basically it
was segregated, but the teachers were different.
Why were they going to a segregated school?
by virtue of living in this area. The district.
I see. And so, what about the faculty at the school?
faculty. They have a white principal, and Tiffani had white
teachers from first to third or fourth grade, and I think
her last two, fifth and sixth grades, were black. But she
had a good mix of teachers.
That's interesting. Do you feel like they got a good education?
Holmes: I feel
that they [did], because she is able to compete a lot, and
she was always tutoring. Tiffani is my tutoring child. She
can do just about anything. She is--. Well, all my kids are
real good helpers, and they help people all the time. She
does hair. She does everything. She does it free. And I love
that in her.
beautiful. They both are.
both of my, all of my kids are helpers. They love to help
people. And it's a legacy, I think, that my parents have passed
on. And my husband's a helper. So, we just like to take care
of people, and this house has been called an orphanage because
we'll type kids' term papers, look up their research, or do
anything, because we have the Internet, and we just really
like helping children.
fabulous. It really is. There was something I wanted to ask
you. Let me see if I can remember what it was. Hm. What about
the facilities that your children have compared to the facilities
that were in place when you were in school?
theirs are much better. They were able to know how to do computers
and know all the good technology at about five years old.
In fact, when I went to graduate school, my daughter diagnosed
my software program as being defective. (Laughter.)
how old was she?
was about six then.
said, "There is something wrong with your disc." I had just
bought the computer, and I was just having a fit. And she
knew more about getting it started than I did.
that's ironic, but that's modern life, I guess. Tell me a
little bit about your husband. I can't remember if it was
on your father's interview that somebody said he was a judge?
not my husband. My sister's husband.
Alright. Well, but, tell me about your husband.
husband is William Holmes, and he was under the tutelage of
Dr. Mason a whole lot. He traveled to Philmont [Scout Ranch
in] New Mexico, one summer with Dr. Mason. And my husband
just grew to really stand up for himself after going to New
Mexico with Dr. Mason because during that time it was not
in vogue to just be vocal, and anytime somebody wouldn't serve
them, and they were in their uniforms, he just stood up to
them and told them that they weren't right.
Even if he didn't get served, he still got to [have a voice].
he was very courageous, and my husband thought that that was
a summer that changed his life because he had just never seen
a black man stand up to authority like Dr. Mason. So, I just
really--. I've never met Dr. Mason, but I just really want
to do that.
getting pretty old. Yeah. I wasn't really sure if he was still
living. But do you know for sure he is?
Holmes: I know
he's been sick. His wife died not too long ago.
That's really tough when you've been married as long as they
have. I encourage you to contact him because he is--.
Holmes: I do
want to meet him.
have an interview of his, but it's restricted in some way--I
can't remember exactly what--but it was an education in itself
to do the editing on that interview. I will let you know when
it hits the shelf.
yes. I'd love to.
let you know. Well, we talked a little bit about your experiences
in the civil rights movement, but I just wonder if there's
anything we didn't mention. I know you had told me that you
sensed that people protected you from risks some during that
when I thought about it, I know now who my greatest protector
was, and it was James Carl Miller. That was Mr. J.P. Miller's
son, because I protected him when he was in elementary, and
he turned the tables and wanted to protect me for the rest
of the time. He--.
tell me about protecting him, first.
he was my buddy. I was born May 12, 1950; he was born May
13, 1950. Our parents were the greatest of friends. Need I
say more? But anyway, we were close like brother and sister,
and he ended up marrying my best friend. They got divorced
later on. But, Clarice and I--. And he was protecting me,
but he was probably doing an added measure because he had
a mad crush on her, too. But we did march. We sneaked and
marched behind his back, but he would always, now that I look
back, try to sabotage and say, "Well, I need you to do this."
And he knew I'd never refuse anything that he asked because
we were just like that. And he would always try to make up
excuses, but we wanted to be arrested. (Laughter.)
was one of your objectives, to get arrested.
wanted to be arrested. (Laughter.) We did. And we probably
would never have been because they always arrested other people.
But I think Carl, J.C. Richmond, and Brenda, his aunt who
just received her law degree, were arrested. And they were
all classmates of mine. But it was my goal to be arrested.
you were how old then?
I was between fourteen and sixteen then, [when] they were
having all the trouble.
your classmates who were being arrested were under age?
were fourteen. Mm-hm. They were fourteen that year.
long did they stay in jail?
Holmes: I really
don't know, but I do know that I was just mad at him for not
letting me be arrested because he had asked me to do something
that day. Probably it was lessons, because he would always
say that I kept him grounded. He was super intelligent, because
he helped me with my physics because I had a hard time with
physics, and he helped me with that. But we would always keep
each other grounded, I thought. But he probably had me doing
some sort of research or something for him that day.
how did you protect him in elementary school?
he just didn't know how to fight, and I did. (Laughter.) I'm
not violent by nature, but when it comes to somebody that
I really, really love, I will just go to battle for them.
And I had those brothers that were really strong, and we practiced
great. That's a great story. Did you feel like you faced any
reprisals for your work in the civil rights movement?
And I have a lot of programs that deal with race, and I have
a lot of whites that help me put it on.
that at the library here?
They help me out a lot, but I do notice that people tend to
shy away from me when I mention that I'm a member of the NAACP
and SCLC. I think that they think that it's a racist, not
realizing that it's just that I'm trying to advance my race.
my race, and then advance everyone, as you say. You know.
Because everybody benefits in the end. Handicapped people,
well, women, of course. A lot of people who were in the civil
rights movement talk about how, for them, the women's movement
grew directly out of their experience in the civil rights
you know, today, still, women can be working the same job
as a man, and not get paid [as much as the man.] But, let
me think, now.
just don't understand.
Millet: I was
going to ask you something. I think what I wanted to get back
to was, what did you do after your master's degree?
my master's degree, I just continued to do what I was doing.
It was just validated. I was head of the reference department
at one time.
so, when did you start working at the Pascagoula Library?
Was it after you got your bachelor's degree?
you got your bachelor's degree.
I have done just about everything in that library. No, I came
to the library one night, and the boss's daughter asked me
what I was doing, and I told her that I had been doing domestic
work. And she did not like that. She said, "Apply for this
job." And I applied and got the job. I had been doing domestic
work, but I had gotten this job at Sears, and I really, really
didn't like the job at Sears, so, I quit work in ladies fashions
at Sears on a Friday and started work for the library on a
Saturday, October 3, 1972.
And have you been there ever since?
So, after the summer of sixty-four, what was your kind of
focus? Were you just focused in getting through high school?
Going to college? You wanted to be a doctor.
you got married. Had that bad experience that first year with
the junior college. And then--.
I made a lot of lasting friends, too, during that time.
you involved in civil rights during that time when you were
going to school? When you were having your children?
a little bit. A little bit during that time.
what form did it take?
voter registration. That type thing. It was kind of minimal
during that time. Now, I'm involved in an array of things.
the NAACP an important part of your civil rights work for
me about that.
I've been involved through my sorority which is Delta Sigma
Theta. I've been involved through National Council of Negro
Women, and also the library, because my boss that I had prior
to--well, one of my bosses took a strong interest in the NAACP,
and she was honored by the NAACP. And I've received several
awards from the NAACP for my projects.
They're in there. [Gesturing.] I received the Unsung Heroine
Award for this year, 2000. I received a professionalism award
[for] community service and another one for something. They're
in there on the wall.
you want to go look?
(inaudible). It says, "Professionalism Award." And one for
Service. I think that's the one that we didn't have.
this is the one I'm most proud of. It's so dusty.
is the one you're most proud of. Oh, "Unsung Heroine Award
presented to Julia Holmes for over twenty years of unselfish,
devoted, and faithful service in the promotion of black history
projects. Moss Point, Jackson County Branch, NAACP, February
do you remember some specific things that you did with Delta
Sigma Theta or the National Council of Negro Women or the
library that you consider to be important projects?
with the library, it's mostly black history programs, and
we have had an Unsung Sheroes Program, honoring black women.
We've had a "Having Our Say" program which--.
does that work, "Having Our Say?"
was intergenerational, and we had the students [ask questions.]
And that was done with Kathy Murray, the gifted teacher, and
I had the students to interview. Well, it was whites and blacks.
did they interview?
first Miss America [contestant] from this area, and that was
Dot Jane. Franzetta Sanders.
the first--? Was that an African-American who was first?
the first Miss America [contestant] from this area. And that
was Dot Jane. And Mr. Welch. And there was a Mr. Planer[?]
who is a school board member. Franzetta [Sanders]. You know
I mentioned her before. Miss Fountain[?] who was my elementary
principal. Gosh, who else? Ms. Nobella Griffin[?]. Just a
lot of people.
And you mentioned that your husband or somebody videotaped
school has it.
what will they do with that film?
just have it archived. Mm-hm. She was supposed to get me one,
but I never got mine.
that's a great program.
we've had numerous programs. I can't remember them all.
how would you describe the role of the clergy in the movement?
the clergy has always been a driving force in the civil rights
movement and especially my church. My church has always been
fortunate to have a minister who was not usually tied to a
job so therefore he could be free in his thinking. Our church
early on housed the Head Start program. When Kennedy died,
we had a big ceremony right after that because, you know,
just pouring [out] our grief and how we felt about Kennedy
because it was just really traumatic. That was one of the
worst days of my life.
our present pastor is real active in various causes. If he
feels like somebody has been wronged, he will go to their
aid. And he is very vocal about it, but I like him because
he is very well-rounded. He's involved in the Chamber of Commerce,
and he serves on lots of boards. He coaches basketball. He
has just done a lot of things. One thing that I'm really proud
of him for is that he operates and founded the Operation X[?]
Lunch Program. And we have tutors to come in. And they have
dramatic results. Kids who were making D's go up to A's.
that done in the church?
the church. And it's for any child; I mean, any child.
But he graduated from Leadership Jackson County, and he just
is very versatile and young, of course.
comparing the lives and opportunities available to African-Americans
before the civil rights movement [and] after, what words would
you use to describe the Mississippi Gulf Coast before the
before, I think that while it was not as bad as other parts
of Mississippi, the Mississippi Gulf Coast strictly enforced
its Jim Crow laws, and, you know, that has to be said. But
that's about it.
And what about after the movement?
the movement, I think that blacks just began to feel like
they were worthy, that their self-esteem just went up sky
high. And they felt that they didn't have to bow down to anybody,
and that they felt that they were as good. And I think that
after the murder of the civil rights workers, that they really
felt that they should just be beneficial to society, and they
started owning their businesses a lot in this area. They started
running for office. They just had a new sense of importance.
And I thought that was a good thing. And I just think that
the workers that came down here just really did wonders for
this town. Well, this area.
were amazing people. And how would you describe race relations
on the Mississippi Gulf Coast, now?
good. A lot remains to be done, but I think very good in comparison.
do you think African-Americans have representation among elected
officials in the coastal counties.
And I think that our little town has the most because we have
a black mayor, and as my dad forestated, we have a black judge,
and we have four black aldermen.
More political power.
the movement had not come, where would we be now?
we also wouldn't have a black supervisor that represents this
district. We wouldn't have a state representative, Billy Broomfield,
who is black. We wouldn't be as tolerant of each other as
we are now because the movement forced the races to come together
and work together. Before the movement, we had all these preconceived
notions about how one race was, and usually these preconceived
notions were wrong. And I feel like I have made lasting friendships
through being involved on boards, because I serve on a lot
of boards. And I feel like my input is important. And I'm
glad now that we can respect each other's views in order to
come to a workable solution. And I think that we should all
know that our children are watching us, and we should, you
know, just live lives that are good and respect each other
and be real tolerant. And I also want to say that conventional
wisdom would say that Vernon Dahmer, Medgar Evers, Martin
Luther King, Viola Liuzzo, and all, and the three civil rights
workers that were murdered would probably be amazed and dismayed
if they came to our town, because our town is wracked with
drug problems. We have debilitating poverty. We have a number
of problems. We have violence, but I think that they also
would find communities becoming strong. They would find communities
that were--. They would be pleased by the number of black,
elected officials, and they would be pleased with the number
of people who are trying to persevere in the face of adversity.
And I think that they would find hope in this. So, the movement
was not in vain, and they didn't die in vain.
do you think the movement is still alive and active and a
something was started that is still in motion and hopefully
will always be in motion.
Until we reach a point where we can't tell there are any differences
between us. (Laughter.)
And I just hope that one day it is like that.
And, you know, there is
a resurgence of undercover racism, and I just really don't
like that. I just wish that people would just be more genuine.
But overall I think race relations have improved immensely.
is there anything that I have failed to ask you that you would
like to comment on for the record for future generations?
I will forever be indebted to Billy Knight[?] and J.C. Carter
for kind of insisting that Ms. McIlwain[?] take me to work
at the library. And I will be indebted to her for keeping
me beyond that time and rehiring me several years later. Because
she did give me a chance, and she was very fair. And we remain
friends to this day.
Well, great. I can't think of anything else except to say,
thank you very much.
very welcome. And I just love you.
(End of the interview.)