An Oral History

With

Bea Jenkins













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. Bea Jenkins was born in Sardis, Mississippi, on December 15, 1918. Her parents were landowners who farmed their own land; she was one of three boys and three girls. As a child, Ms. Jenkins walked five miles daily to attend McDaniel School, and she completed elementary school. Working with her family on their farm also occupied Ms. Jenkins' early years. Segregation was the entrenched way of life in Sardis, Durant, and Lexington, Mississippi, where Ms. Jenkins lived during her childhood and adulthood.



Horrified by the lynching of Emmett Till, Ms. Jenkins began searching for a better way of life for Mississippi's African-Americans, and she was drawn to the activist Mississippi civil rights movement in the early sixties. While working in the movement, Ms. Jenkins faced the Ku Klux Klan, marched, boycotted, was arrested, helped with voter registration, worked as a housekeeper, and worked in the Freedom Democratic Party. Additionally, Ms. Jenkins filed three lawsuits against the city of Lexington, in order to improve living conditions in African-American communities.



Ms. Jenkins has one son.

Table of Contents



Early childhood 1

Parents' farm 2

Segregation 4

Working as a domestic 5

Emmett Till 6

Meetings at Second Pilgrim Rest Church 7

Freedom Democratic Party campaign office 8

Protest marching 9

Ku Klux Klan 9

Black elected officials 10

Arrested 10

Impediments to blacks' voting 12

Holmes County Bank 13

Police brutality 14

Voter registration 15

Filing lawsuits against the city 19

AN ORAL HISTORY



WITH



BEA JENKINS



This is an interview for the Civil Rights Documentation Project. The interview is with Ms. Bea Jenkins and is taking place on January 17, 2000. The interviewer is Harriet Tanzman.



Tanzman: [This is Harriet] Tanzman. I am in Lexington, Mississippi for The University of Southern Mississippi Center for Oral History and Tougaloo [College], talking with Ms. Bea Jenkins of the Freedom Democratic Party. Hello, Bea.



Jenkins: Hello. How are you?



Tanzman: Great. Bea, could you tell me when you were born and where you were born? And who your folks were?



Jenkins: I was born in Panola County, a little town called Sardis, Mississippi. I was born December 15, 1918.



Tanzman: And who were your parents? And did you have brothers and sisters?



Jenkins: My father was named Ellis Thompson[?], and my mother was named Cora Alice Whiten Thompson. And my brother was named A.B. Thompson. I have a brother named L.C. Thompson. And I have a brother named Joe Thompson. And I have a sister named Bernice Thompson Grant[?]. And then I have a sister named Annie Mae Holloway[?].



Tanzman: And what kind of work did your family do, your parents do, then, when you were a child?



Jenkins: They farmed. They did farm work.



Tanzman: Did they live on their own farm? Did they work for other people?



Jenkins: Well, they had land. They farmed their land.



Tanzman: And what kind of school did you go [to]? Where did you go to school, when you went to school?



Jenkins: I went to the school we called McDaniel[?]. It's out about twelve miles east of a town called Como, Mississippi.



Tanzman: In Panola County?



Jenkins: Yeah, in Panola County. Right. In Panola County.



Tanzman: Did you have to walk to school? How did you get there?



Jenkins: I walked, about five miles to school.



Tanzman: And did they have, was it, like, a one-room schoolhouse? Or what was--?



Jenkins: Yeah.



Tanzman: Could you describe it a little?



Jenkins: Yes. It was a one-room schoolhouse. And they had [a] wooden heater, and our teacher was named Benus Brunt[?]. He was the principal, and then we had other teachers there, you know, that taught the classes.



Tanzman: Mm-hm. And did you come up there? Did you live in Panola County until you were grown?



Jenkins: Yes, I did. I married in Panola County.



Tanzman: Mm-hm. What was your husband's name?



Jenkins: His name was Clyde Johnson[?]. My son's father. His name is Eddie Johnson.



Tanzman: Oh. And when you married your husband, had you gotten through school? Had you gone through elementary school, high school?



Jenkins: Yes, I had gone through elementary school. Right.



Tanzman: Were you working with your family, then, on the farm?



Jenkins: Yes, I was working with [them.] Are you talking about before I married? I worked for my parents. Right. Worked for my parents. We did farm work.



Tanzman: What did they raise?



Jenkins: Corn, cotton, sorghum, cane, peanuts, [peas, and greens.] Chickens, guineas, turkeys, and, you know, pigs. They'd grow big hogs, and we would kill them, and that would be our meat for winter. (Laughter.) Yes, stuff like that. Mm-hm. Peanuts and popcorn. You know, this corn that you grow, that you pop. We grew that, too, on the farm. Right. Peas. Right.



Tanzman: And when you and your husband married, did you come to Holmes County? Or were you working there?



Jenkins: No, I wasn't. My husband, he passed. My first husband passed away, when our son was very young. He wasn't even schoolage. And then I remarried, again. Right.



Tanzman: Who was your second husband?



Jenkins: His name was Walter Evans. And later, then, he passed, and I remarried, again, to a man named Louis Jenkins. His nickname was Hot.



Tanzman: Hot?



Jenkins: [Yes,] Hot.



Tanzman: H-O-T.



Jenkins: H-O-T. (Laughter.) Right. So, I [was] married three times, and all three of them's dead, now. So, I'm just a widow lady, now.



Tanzman: Did you have children with Mr. Jenkins?



Jenkins: No, with my husband called Clyde. My first husband. We had that only one child. His name is Eddie Johnson.



Tanzman: And when did you come to Holmes County?



Jenkins: I moved to Holmes County in fifty-three.



Tanzman: What part?



Jenkins: Durant, [Mississippi.] And we lived there till 1966, and then [we] moved to Lexington, [Mississippi.]



Tanzman: What kind of work were you doing in Holmes County?



Jenkins: Domestic work.



Tanzman: And your husband?



Jenkins: He did farm work. [Yes.]



Tanzman: What was Durant like, then? Were you in Durant?



Jenkins: Yes, [we lived] in Durant. [West on the Castalian Springs Road.]



Tanzman: OK. And what was Durant like then? In terms of white and black and the conditions that people had. Were things very segregated?



Jenkins: It was. Durant was a town that had a large population and had a lot of business there. And at that time, it was a [growing business] town, but they didn't have any black people that were working in the stores as cashiers.



Tanzman: Wait a second.



(There is a brief interruption in the tape.)



Tanzman: They didn't work in the stores and what else was segregated?



Jenkins: In banks and like that, they didn't have any, you know, employed there. Everything was segregated.



Tanzman: What about the school that your son went to? Was he going to school, then?



Jenkins: He was going to school, then. He was going to what they called Durant Vocation, and the principal was William Sullivan[?]. That was the name of the principal at that time.



Tanzman: What was the school like for the kids? How was it? How was the quality of the school compared to the white school?



Jenkins: Well, it wouldn't compare to the white school because they had a nice building. The whites did. And Durant had a--. It was a high school, and it didn't have lots of classrooms like, you know, the whites did. It was a smaller school. And it was segregated. (Laughter.)



Tanzman: Did it have books? Much books? And labs and stuff?



Jenkins: Well, they had books that they, you know, could afford. I guess that's what they--. I think the books came through by the white principal or something like that. I don't know if the government furnished their books at that time or not, but I know they had books, and they had the best they could have at that time. Right.



Tanzman: And the domestic work that you were doing, what kind of wages were you making then? This is in the fifties?



Jenkins: (Laughter.) The wages for doing housework at that time were $12.00 a week.



Tanzman: Oh.



Jenkins: Twelve dollars a week.



Tanzman: For full time?



Jenkins: For full time. All day. All day. It wasn't by hours. It wasn't working by the hour; just the day.



Tanzman: What about your husband's work? Was he working for different farmers in the fields? Or was he working his own land?



Jenkins: No, he was working with the same people that I worked for. He farmed, you know, with the same people that I worked for. I farmed awhile with him, but after I--. They were just taking your money, you know. You'd make their crop and then at the end of the year, they called it strictly low middlin'[?]. You didn't come out your debt, and (laughter) they'd say, "Next year, you'll probably come out of debt and make you, you know, clear a little money from your cotton." Or whatever. And they'd say, "But it rained so much that the cotton is strictly low middlin'." And I had gotten tired of it. I felt I was just--.



Tanzman: The rain was what?



Jenkins: Said the cotton was strictly low middlin'. It had rained, you know, so much. Said the cotton was strictly low middlin'. And I told him, the man, and I told him, I said, "Look, you could strict it low middlin', you can strict it high middlin' or in the middle, this is my last time. I'm not farming anymore. I'm going to gin my cotton every Saturday. That's when I'm going to get my pay. Every Saturday." And so, that's what I did.



Tanzman: Mm-hm. Oh, you didn't do it for them. What do you mean you were ginning?



Jenkins: I mean, I wasn't going to farm anymore.



Tanzman: Oh, that was it.



Jenkins: I mean, I wasn't going to farm anymore for them to take my money, and say we didn't clear anything. We come out, you know, in debt. And, I told him, I said, "Well--." And he called it, the cotton, when it rained a lot, he called it strictly low middlin'. That means there was a low price in it, and you wasn't going to clear any money. And I told him, "Well, you can strict your middlin' any way you want. You can strict it high, strict it low, or strict it in the middle. I don't care." And I said, "I'm going to make my money on the salary. That's when I'm going to get my pay. And I'm going to change jobs. I'm not going to do this anymore."



Tanzman: Did your husband continue to work?



Jenkins: He farmed one year afterward. He farmed one year afterward, and I didn't go out there to help him at all because I was just fed up on that, working for nothing. Mm-hm. Yeah. Yeah.



Tanzman: So, then you were doing domestic work, so, you were paid.



Jenkins: Right. I did domestic work and got paid every Saturday. That $12.00. (Laughter.) At the end of the week. (Laughter.) And they called that a big salary at that time. Yeah. They did. They called [it] we [were] getting top price.



Tanzman: What drew you to the civil rights movement when it was starting? Was this in the sixties? What got you started on going to meetings and attending?



Jenkins: When the (inaudible) boys, they got killed. You know, when they brutally murdered him?



Tanzman: Tell me about it. Tell me about that.



Jenkins: He was from Chicago, and he was living with his grandparents. And, not anything that I know, but I heard that he passed by this store, him and some more boys. They passed by a white store. And they accused him, the owner of the store accused [him] of whistling at his wife. And that night, they went in, to take him from his grandparents. And they was screaming and hollering and asking, begging them not to take him. And they just took him by force, and carried him out and [brutally] murdered him. Just every part they could cut off of him, they did that.



Tanzman: This was Emmett Till.



Jenkins: Right. Emmett Till. And when I went home that day, I was chopping cotton and I went home that day, turned my radio on. I didn't have a TV at that time. Turned my radio on and I heard it over the news. And I was just so filled up with that and other things that they had been so brutal to our black people. And when that evening came, I went back to the field. I was picking cotton, and I just fell down on my sack, and I asked the Lord, "Why? Why it have to happen to us all the time? We have to take this brutality. We haven't did anything. Why?" And I said, "Lord, you know it's a better way than this. Our people just suffering and being killed for nothing." I said, "And if you ever heard my prayer, would you please step in now, and help us to stop this brutality?" And in about a year, I guess, after that, then when what you call the Freedom Riders. I know you heard of that. The Freedom Riders came into Holmes County, and I was so glad, I applauded. And then they started. They set up a meeting at Second Pilgrim Rest. Hattie Saffold and Eugene Saffold, they was the organizers, and they set these meetings up at that church called Second Pilgrim Rest. And when I learned about it, then I and my husband, we started attending these meetings.



Tanzman: This was back in 1963 or four?



Jenkins: Right. Sixty-four, or something like that. And I and my husband, we attended these meetings. And I was so afraid, I didn't even tell my close friend, Mrs. Winters, till later, and, now, we would go to the meetings every night. And she said to me, one Sunday, I was at her home. She said, "Bea, you are going somewhere, but you will not tell me what type of meeting you're going to."



I said, "I'll tell you later." So, later on down, you know, the year, I told her that we was attending a meeting out there for our freedom rights. For, you know, justice.



And she said, "Well, I would like to go. Would you come by and pick up I and Mr. Winters?" She called her husband Mr. Winters.



I said, "Yes, we will." And so, we did. We'd go by and pick them up. We would go out there, and we would have our meetings. And when the wintertime, we didn't let that stop us. Sometimes it would be snowing, raining, sleet, but we'd go on to those meetings because we was interested in getting our rights, you know, and justice for black people. And so, we attended the meetings because what was happening, we wanted it to stop. We wanted it to stop. We wanted better paying jobs. We wanted black people to be elected to these positions. And so, we continued to meet out there, and then after awhile, then we decided, my husband, he bought a home, we did, over in Lexington. So, we moved here, but I didn't stop attending them meetings, and they had a place down on--. Before we got this place on Yazoo Street, we'd meet out there in the pecan grove, because, you know, down in the pecan grove, was a big, old oak tree. In the summertime that's where people would gather and meet.



Tanzman: Just meet outside under the tree?



Jenkins: Under the tree.



Tanzman: This is in Lexington?



Jenkins: In Lexington. And then, afterward, they started, got a little, old house there, and they would meet in this little house. Sue and Henry, they were from, what, Minnesota, at that time? Wasn't Minnesota.



Tanzman: California. Sue and Henry Lorenzi, L-O-R-E-N-Z-I.



Jenkins: Yeah. Right. They moved down. And then, we--.



Tanzman: Were you meeting under the tree before any church was available to meet at? Was that the first meeting place? Were you meeting under this tree because there weren't other places?



Jenkins: There weren't other places that you could meet. And then afterwards, they opened up a place on Yazoo Street, (inaudible). But the name of it, Yazoo Street, they opened up a campaign office there. When we began to get people to register to vote, and we marched.



Tanzman: Was that the Freedom Democratic Party of Holmes County?



Jenkins: Yes, it was. Yes, it was. Mm-hm. The Freedom Democratic Party. And so we met there and then we decided we would start a boycott. That's the march.



Tanzman: Was the boycott discussed because--? Why was this and was this the end of the sixties? Early seventies? When was this?



Jenkins: Yes, that was kind of the end of the sixties and the seventies. And the campaign office was opened up under the leadership of the lady by the name of Mary Hightower and Mrs. Georgia G. Clark. Mary Hightower, from Durant. Mrs. Georgia G. Clark, from West. And Mr. W.H. Sims[?] from Lexington. So, they opened up that campaign office. And so, that's where we'd meet. We would have our community meeting once a week in that office. And so, that's where we got our campaign movement. What you called, they called the campaign movement, but they organized our--.



Tanzman: Was that where you organized where you would go out in Lexington to reach the people?



Jenkins: Right. Right. To reach the people. To get them to register and vote. And we would have our march called freedom march there, too.



Tanzman: Tell me about the marching. What was that?



Jenkins: We would march every day on the square. That's in Lexington, you know, around the stores. The stores are on the square. You know it's round. The square was round, and we would go around the courthouse. But they had streets, go by, past stores. And then the courthouse was in the middle of the city of Lexington, of the stores. And then, we would march around that every day.



Tanzman: Why were you doing that?



Jenkins: We were trying to get people hired as cashiers and as, you know, working in the store, and because the only people at that time worked in the store, we called them broomsweepers. They would sweep the stores and dust in the stores and things of that nature. Didn't have any jobs other than that, you know.



Tanzman: Were there other issues, also, that you were working about? I remember hearing something about the police. Could you tell me about that?



Jenkins: Yes, we had police brutality. And you know, the police would always find the fault with the black man, you know, to lock him up. And we never--. It wasn't any white being locked up, but just only blacks being locked up, and they would take them down to a little, old county jail, the Holmes County county jail, and the sheriff at that time was white, and he was kind of mean to them, you know. Kind of brutal to them, and we just got, you know, kind of fed up on that, and we decided we would do something about it. And we decided we would march against them, and we wanted some black elected officials as sheriff, justice court judge, and the first we had as circuit clerk, her name was Angie Brown. We marched and we got black people hired in these positions. Right. In these positions, because we had a, you know, kind of rough go at it because (laughter) they didn't want it to be done. You know, they didn't want to accept our proposal, you know, what we offered them.



Tanzman: What kind of opposition? You were beginning to tell me about some cars that lined up.



Jenkins: Oh, yes. About the (laughter), the Ku Klux Klan. They came in one day. We were up there marching and I guess, I'm small in height and maybe at that time in size, but I always had a mind that, you know, I wasn't afraid of them. Not afraid of anybody. And they was these Ku Klux Klan. They drove up in their car with these hoods and their robes on. And we all stood there and looked at them, and I said, "Well, you just have one time to die, Bea. Today is just as good a time as any." And I walked out to the car and talked to them, and I wanted to know why they was out there. I said, "Because I'm not afraid of you all." I said, "I don't see your faces, but I have an idea who you are. Y'all got these stores. You're merchants in the stores." They called them merchants at that--. I said, "Y'all owners of these stores." I say, "You know you don't have any blacks in there. And we spend our money in there." And I said, "And I'm not afraid of you." I said, "I just soon to die today or tomorrow." I said, "What you need to do, go somewhere. Pull those hoods and those robes off, and go back into your store. And then try to make you some money there if you can. Because those robes and things don't excite me. I'm not a scared person." I'm not.



Tanzman: You certainly aren't!



Jenkins: No, I'm not afraid. Uhn-uhn. When I believe in right, because we didn't have any black elected officials. Now we have black elected officials. We have the justice court judge, black. We have a black representative, Representative Clark. And then we have--. From Holmes County, I'm talking about. And we have [Earline Wright Hart], the circuit clerk. [Tax assessor, Ms. Mary McGee] works in the tax assessor [office], I'm trying to say. And then we have Gene Ford[?], chancery clerk. She's black. And then we have Earline Wright Hart, our circuit clerk, she's black. And then we have our justice court judges, both black. And we have our black sheriff. We have black deputies, and other blacks that I can't remember right now, but maybe later on, I can.



Tanzman: A lot of officials.



Jenkins: Black, elected officials. Right. We have a lot of those.



Tanzman: Were there a lot of people involved in the boycott, in the marches, of different ages? Who was out there?



Jenkins: Yes.



Tanzman: Not names.



Jenkins: Oh, just lots of them. The street would be full. The street would be full.



Tanzman: Did they arrest you all?



Jenkins: Yes, I was arrested. (Laughter.) I was taken to jail. We was. And we stayed in jail because they tried to get us--. We would sing and clap our hands, and they didn't want us to do that when we would march around the square, and they asked us not to do it, but we know that, you know, they didn't like it, and so, we continued to sing and clap our hands. And so, they decided they were going, you know--. If you didn't stop, if you don't stop, we're going to put you in jail. And so, we didn't. We just kept on. And so they did. They locked us up.



Tanzman: How many of you did they pick up?



Jenkins: Oh, I can't count them. We had one little room. [It] was packed full. Children and all. They had to let the children go, you know, because they was under age, you know. You cannot lock up, you know, a child like that just for something like this, like marching. You know. So, they had to let the children go under the supervision of their parents. And so, but we grownups, they let us stay in jail. They had bondsmen at that time. Reverend Whitaker[?], he lives in Tchula. Mr. Vanderbilt Roby lives at Old Pilgrim Rest.



Tanzman: That's Vanderbilt, V-A-N-D-E-R-B-I-L-T. Roby, R-O-B-Y.



Jenkins: Roby, uhn-huh. And Mr. Johnny B. Walls and Mr. Linc Williams[?] and several more of them was bondsmen. They didn't march. They just there for bondsmen. When any of us go to jail, they would bond us out.



Tanzman: Oh, did they put up their land? Because they were farmers out in the county.



Jenkins: Right. And I forgot Mr. Shadrach Davis[?], lived at Mileston. Right. And Mr., I forgot him, Mr. John D. Wesley[?]. Yes. And they was our bondsmen.



Tanzman: So, the people that bonded you out were some of the black farmers from the Delta and from--.



Jenkins: From the hills.



Tanzman: The hill county[?].



Jenkins: The hill county and the Delta county. And they all was black. Mm-hm. Yeah. And they didn't march with us because they was there to support us if we got put in jail. Yes, but we had men that would supervise us around the square, Mr. Tom Griffin[?], Mr. Eugene Saffold, and it's some more of them. I just really can't call their name right now, but we had--. They were our protection. Yeah, they would march around. They would stay on the opposite side of us. We were on the street, and they would stay out in the street. We was on the sidewalk walk, and they would be in the street. They was our protection.



Tanzman: They were watching out for you.



Jenkins: They were watching out to see if anything come up, you know, that try to harm us, or something. If anybody.



Tanzman: After you were arrested and bonded out, bailed out, did you have to--? You went right back to the street?



Jenkins: Yes, sure. We did. Right. We went back out there on the street doing the same thing, (laughter) singing and marching. Yeah, that's right. Because we believed what I believe in. I didn't give up because, you know, you won't get anything done by starting and stopping. You've got to go to the end. Right. You can't. I fear no man. I fear God. I fear no man.



Tanzman: That sounds like it was pretty scary times, though.



Jenkins: It was. Right. It was. And we had some strong men marching with us, too.



Tanzman: Did you?



Jenkins: Yeah. T.C. I forgot about T.C. Johnson's son. He marched with us, and I imagine you remember Joe Smith's daddy? He marched with us. Those were our strong--. A lot of our strong black men would march with us.



Tanzman: How long did you keep up this boycott for?



Jenkins: Oh, until they started registering some of our black people that, you know--. We had a hard time trying to get registered. [When] some of our people [would] go up to vote, and they would ask them how many bubbles in a bar of soap. But they didn't stop there. They would go back. They just kept going back. Sometimes they would sic the--. They had some dogs up there, and they was--. You know, how you pat the dog, you know, you want the dog to go and yell, "Get 'em. Get 'em. Get 'em. Get 'em." And the dog would take off, you know, after the black people around the courthouse. They didn't want them to come in and register to vote.



Tanzman: This is even into the late sixties?



Jenkins: That was into the late sixties. Right. Right. In the sixties. Right. Mm-hm.



Tanzman: So, your boycott, what effect did it have on the stores? On the business down there?



Jenkins: Well, they did. We was effective because they hired black all around the square. We have black, you know, working around, as cashiers.



Tanzman: As a result of this?



Jenkins: As a result of this.



Tanzman: And what happened to your job when you were working and doing all this? Who were you working for?



Jenkins: I was working for the president of the Holmes County Bank.



Tanzman: In his home. Housekeep--.



Jenkins: In Holmes County.



Tanzman: You were working as a housekeeper?



Jenkins: I was working as a housekeeper, and his wife was named Nina Wilson[?]. His name was Will Wilson[?].



Tanzman: Was that one of the places that you were boycotting? Or picketing?



Jenkins: No, I worked in that home.



Tanzman: No. I know, but the boycott, the marching, was that partly because they didn't hire blacks in the bank?



Jenkins: Well, he was the president of the Holmes County Bank, and we didn't--. I marched around that bank, too. We did. We marched around that, and someone there said, "Bea, aren't you afraid to march around?" Said, "That's the man that you work for."



And I told them it didn't make any difference because we wanted--. I said, "People, some blacks, have they money there, too." And they didn't have any black people working there as employees. And I said, "And, I don't see any difference. If he's not hiring any blacks, why not march against him, too?" (Laughter.) So, I did. And go back into their home the next day and work. (Laughter.) And he told me, he'd see I was so determined. He knew that I did not, you know, like a lot of people just didn't know what they doing or where they wanted to go or who they wanted to be. And he knew I was serious in what I was doing.



And he told me one day, he said, "Bea." He said, "I see you're honest in what you're doing." He said, "And keep it up." He said, "Because I know, when I believe in something right, I'm going to go on and finish and see what the end's going to be." He said, "And that's the way I think about you." He said, "You go on." And said, "If anybody do anything to you, or try, you let me know." Say, "And I'll take care of that."



Tanzman: What happened at his bank as a result of the boycott? Did they start hiring anyone?



Jenkins: Oh, yes. They started hiring blacks.



Tanzman: As tellers?



Jenkins: Right. As tellers at the bank. And they still have them there. Yes, at all these stores, now, black work, you know, as tellers, cashiers.



Tanzman: And one of the issues was also about the police. How did that affect the police brutality and everything? Was there any effect on it? Were you trying to get rid of any of the cops who were particularly bad? Or you just wanted the whole thing to be better for people?



Jenkins: Well, yes, we wanted to get rid of them, but if they, you know, wanted their job, wanted to continue to work as police, if they stopped their brutality, that's all we wanted. We wasn't trying to get anybody fired. We just wanted to stop what they were doing to black people. We wanted it to stop because they would take black people to jail and take them down to the station, police station. They would, you know, beat them, and things like that. And take them to jail and they would, you know, to up there and beat them and all that kind of stuff. And we didn't like that. We were tired of that. If you're going to take us to jail, take them to jail. And fine them if they had did something wrong. That was all right. We could understand that, but now, you just go and arrest somebody because he black and going to take him somewhere and beat him and all that. That was just mean.



Tanzman: Did the boycott affect that treatment? Were they better after you were out there marching every day?



Jenkins: Yes, they were, because we kept our money in our pocket. It was better, and we'd see to the black. Some of them would slip in there, but it wasn't enough to keep that store going. You take a lot of money, you know, to run a store. And with the overhead, you know, the lights and the water and the gas and paying the ones that was working in there, which they was white. But it took money to pay them, and it wasn't that many blacks going in there, supporting them.



Tanzman: So, this really hurt their business?



Jenkins: Yes, it did hurt their business. It really did.



Tanzman: Did it make the treatment of the police better, towards black people?



Jenkins: Oh, yes. Yes. Yes, it did. Really. Mm-hm. Yes, it did. They stopped all that brutality. And, too, they began to hire blacks at the police station, and then, now, at the jail we don't have any whites at the jail anymore. All black employed. Now, sometimes we have a white to go in. He hired. Our sheriff will hire him, which he's black. They hire some, but very few want that job, now. (Laughter.) I don't know why, but I don't think they like that job anymore. (Laughter.)



Tanzman: Did the black sheriff get elected around that time? Willie Marsh?



Jenkins: Yes, he did. We got him elected. Sure did. In the seventies, we got him elected. And our first black sheriff was Howard Huggins.



Tanzman: Huggins. That's H-U-G-G-I-N-S.



Jenkins: Mm-hm. Huggins. Mm-hm.



Tanzman: And that was in the sixties, wasn't it? Late sixties?



Jenkins: That's right. In the sixties. In the late, you know, late sixties on into the seventies.



Tanzman: So, the Freedom Democratic Party had its office on Beale[?] Street, the campaign office for some years, and it was local people that were working there like Mary Lee Hightower and the rest?



Jenkins: Oh, yes. Right. Right.



Tanzman: Yeah. What were you doing out in the community from that office? How were you working with the movement then? In addition to the boycott.



Jenkins: Well, at the beginning, we didn't have any black people registered to vote. Maybe just a few, and what I was interested in--.



Tanzman: This was in Lexington, right?



Jenkins: In Lexington. This was Lexington. Right. And I was interested in getting some black people elected to these offices as elected officials and knowing that we wasn't going to get any white votes. And so, what I knew we had to do: go out and try to get our black people registered to vote, and so, I did. I worked in the little community called Tin Cup Alley. And the name of it is the Mulberry Community. And down in the, called it the Box Bottom, that's down kind of east of Lexington. And down in the Pecan Grove, I would walk. When I would get off my job, I would walk and try to get those people registered, because at that time, we wanted--. A man wanted to run for the legislature, you know.



Tanzman: State legislature?



Jenkins: State legislator, uh-huh. And that was Robert G. Clark.



Tanzman: Was that in 1967?



Jenkins: Was it 1967? Yeah, I think it was 1967, but anyway we wanted him to get elected. We wanted to put a black, and he wanted to run. And so, I knew I had to get out there to get the black vote because if we didn't, we knew the white wasn't going to vote for him. So, I did, and I would walk. It would be hot. July. June and July and August was hot months, but that's all right. I walked. You know, walked all down there, got those people's names and got people to say they would come up to register to vote. And I said, "Well, now, if you're afraid to go to the courthouse to register, I will go with you." And I did. I went with some to register.



Some said, "No, I'm not afraid."



And I said, "Well." And those that were afraid, I would take them up there.



Tanzman: Were there many that were afraid?



Jenkins: Yes, there was. There was quite a few, but, and then there was some that wasn't. So, the ones that wasn't, they went on up to register to vote, and so, when we got, when Representative Clark ran that next year for the House of Representatives, we got him elected. We did. We got him elected. We had enough votes, enough black people to turn out, and Mr. Bruce and his crew was working in Durant. West, Mrs. Georgia G. Clark worked there. And in the Delta, there was Reverend Whitaker and John D. Webster and some more were working in the Delta. And then Ebenezer, we had blacks working in that area.



Tanzman: That's where he's from, right? Ebenezer?



Jenkins: Ebenezer. He's living in Ebenezer. And Pickens. And Goodman. We had representatives, you know, in each town to work with the black people to get them to register to vote because everybody was interested in voting and getting a black person elected to this office, to this representative in office because we would have somebody down there to represent the black people. At that time, they'd pass laws, and we didn't have anybody to speak for the blacks.



Tanzman: There were no blacks in the legislature.



Jenkins: No blacks, at all. And so, we wanted somebody there in that office to represent the black people, and we knew that Representative Clark would be the very person to represent the black folk, and so we worked hard to get him elected to that position. So, and then, he's still in that position today. Yeah. Mm-hm.



Tanzman: That's a great triumph for Holmes County.



Jenkins: Yes, it was. He was our first black elected official.



Tanzman: Were any of the young people involved then?



Jenkins: Oh, yes. We had a lot of black people involved. Yes, because their parents was involved, and quite naturally, they got the children involved. Yes.



Tanzman: And was that the time that there were meetings in every beat and every little part of the county, all over the county?



Jenkins: Yes, it was. We were meeting, and every community got a community meeting. Every one would have in little towns, these towns, they would have their community meeting. Right. Mrs. Georgia G. Clark, she would have a meeting in West, and then, you know, Mrs. Hightower was over, and Mr. Sims[?], and, of course, Mrs. Clark worked with us here in Lexington, in getting people registered. A lot of people would come up to the FDP office; they called it the campaign headquarters. Each community and town, that's where they would come and make their report for how many they had got registered or what was happening in their community. They would come to Lexington, because Lexington is the county seat, and that's where they would come, down on Yazoo Street. And we had a little campaign office there, and that's where they would come and make their report. How many people they had got registered and give the names. You know, turn the names in of the people who all they got registered. That's what we'd do. And then we would take them up to the courthouse and, you know, they would put them on the book.



Tanzman: All this time you were still working full-time in people's homes?



Jenkins: I was still working full-time for the Wilsons. I worked for the Wilsons seventeen years, until my husband got sick, and I had to stop. I would have continued to work for them. They were very nice people.



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



Tanzman: In the community, was your husband working in Lexington? Did he have any problems with his jobs because of your activities? Or was he active, too?



Jenkins: Well, no, he wasn't really active in the movement, but he worked, you know, in public jobs. You know. And we didn't farm, but he worked on public jobs. So, and I was the one always involved (laughter) in the, they called it the movement. I was always involved in it.



Tanzman: He supported you, though?



Jenkins: Yeah, he supported me. Oh, yes. And he told me all the time, he said, "Bea, be careful out there, now, because if anything happens to you, I'm coming. I got to come." (Laughter.) Yeah, he was very supportive, and he would take me to meetings. Right. He would take me to the meetings. He would go in, but he never did, you know, have a lot to say. He was a quiet person, and he never did have a lot of mouth, like myself. (Laughter.)



Tanzman: Did he have any reprisal against him? Did he have any problems with his jobs because you were active? He was working for the city of Lexington, then? Or what?



Jenkins: Well, he did farm work, but he worked for someone else, and then when this pipeline, gasline was going through, you know, the different states and counties and all that, well, he worked on that and helped dig trenches for these pipelines and things. Like he was working for the public after then.



Tanzman: But he didn't get fired from it?



Jenkins: No, he didn't get fired for that. No. When he did quit, it was on health reasons. Mm-hm. Yeah. He had health [problems.]



Tanzman: So, he got sick in the eighties, then?



Jenkins: Yes, he did. He got sick in the eighties, and he passed in eighty-nine. Right. Mm-hm.



Tanzman: So, you stopped working for awhile from the domestic work? You stopped working for that family?



Jenkins: I had to stop because, you know, he had gotten sick and I had to stop to take care of him. Yeah, I had to take care of him.



Tanzman: But he was very supportive. And, did you keep touch with people in Durant and other parts of the county through the Freedom Democratic Party?



Jenkins: Sure. Because he was sick, I never stopped going to the meetings. I continued. He always, he called me "Baby." He said, "Now, look." He said, "Now, whatever you believe in, you do that." And on days the meeting would be, he'd say, "You go. I'll be all right." Said, "You go ahead on to your meeting, and I'll be all right." Said, "When your meeting's over, then you can come on back to see about me." (Laughter.) Yeah. "Take care of me." So, and I did. Mm-hm. Yeah.



Tanzman: Very supportive.



Jenkins: Yeah. Right.



Tanzman: Tell me: once elected officials started coming into the county, I mean once you elected people like Robert Clark, was the movement still working a lot about election stuff or what kind of direction did the Freedom Democratic Party take? Did you keep up trying to get people registered? Was that a main thing that you did?



Jenkins: Oh, yes. I did. Yes. When I was, days that I would work, and I would see some young person on the street or elderly person, there's a question I would ask. I'd say, "Are you registered to vote?"



And maybe they'd say, "No," and some would say, "Yes."



The ones that would say no, I would say, "Would you like to go and register? Would you rather go on your own? Or would you like company to go with you?" I said, "If you do want someone to go over there with you, I'll be glad to go."



Some of them said, "Yes, I would like for you to go with me." And I did. Mm-hm.



Tanzman: You made it possible for them to conquer some of that fear.



Jenkins: Right.



Tanzman: And you've been involved with the Freedom Democratic Party many years, I know.



Jenkins: Many years, from way back in the sixties.



Tanzman: So, were you in some of the leadership of it locally in Lexington? Were you helping to run things?



Jenkins: Right. I did. And, too, I have filed three lawsuits against Lexington.



Tanzman: Three lawsuits? Could you tell us about that?



Jenkins: Three lawsuits against Lexington.



Tanzman: Against the city?



Jenkins: Against the city of Lexington.



Tanzman: What was that about?



Jenkins: Well, (laughter) you know, they didn't have fire hydrants out here, you know, for blacks. In the city, they had these water plugs, [in case] someone's house would catch on fire. They didn't have fire plugs in the black neighborhoods. And they didn't have the street for black people to walk on in the black community, of the city of Lexington.



Tanzman: Was it just dirt?



Jenkins: Just dirt. And they had, what you called, in the pecan grove, a 'goon. You know what a 'goon is, don't you? You know what a cesspool is? Well, that's what that was, but it would sit down near to, you know where the little, old creek, they called, Lexington, down below where Bob McGee? Right behind Bob McGee's place? You know where Bob McGee's place is?



Tanzman: Bob McGee's drive-in. The restaurant.



Jenkins: That 'goon sat down near that ditch, there. And in the summer time--. And I lived about five blocks over from him, that drive-in café. And in the summer time, you couldn't hardly sit on your porch for the odor. And the conversation came up one day and said something needed to be done about it. Said, even if someone had to go and file a lawsuit against Lexington. And of course, I didn't say anything; I just sit there, you know, and I always was quiet and didn't say anything. And they were wondering who would go, you know. So, they started to calling names. Who would want to be on the lawsuit? And I didn't say anything; I just waited to see who would volunteer to get on the lawsuit, you know? And they just sit there and some of them, you know, eventually said, "Well, I'll go."



And another one said, "Well, I'll go."



"I'll go." And I guess I was the last one around. They'd say, "Well, what about you, Ms. Jenkins? Will you go?"



I said, "Of course, I'll go."



Tanzman: When was that?



Jenkins: That was in the seventies. Mm-hm. That was in the seventies. And so, our attorney that they chose for our attorney. And I imagine you've heard [of] Johnny Walls in Greenville and Buck and Mack Till[?]. You know Mack Till? They used to come over here to the FDP office, the campaign office, work with us through there. And so, they got in touch with them, and so, they worked with us, and they set a date that the trial--. At least they had to file down there with the people there at the courthouse there and the lawyers there in Jackson.



Tanzman: Were you trying--?



Jenkins: Because they were going through federal court, you know. And so, they had to get in touch with those people and set up a trial date. And out of all those people that signed their names, and you know when you're going to have a trial, you don't ever know what day it going to be. But when you know it, you going to get to be the last one; you're going at the last minute. They'll call you and let you know when you're coming down. That would be the next day. And they called our attorney and told them they were going to have that trial, have our hearing, that Monday. They called our attorney. Was that Monday? No, that was Tuesday, and our attorney had to get with us that Monday. They came over and they told Mary and Mrs. Clark to get all the people to the FDP office, down on Yazoo Street, so he could talk with us. And they did. Most of them came. And, they would talk to us, and they were telling us what it was going to be like. How it was going to be, and all of these things. And that night, they came over and they said, "Well, we've got to come over tonight so we can go around and talk to the people and tell them what they supposed to do." And they went to every house that they went to, didn't nobody go. Everybody had something to do. So, there was I, Ms. Annie May Redmond[?], and Sumera Russel[?], we was the only three showed up at that campaign office. And we three, we agreed to go and testify. All them others backed out. Everybody else had something to do; they couldn't go. So, we went on.



Tanzman: How did it go? Did you actually win? You were trying to close the cesspool?



Jenkins: And we couldn't get anyone to take us from here, Holmes County. Not a person out of all that our attorney called. All these people in Holmes County (inaudible), you know because Mary had, Mrs. Hightower had a record of everybody in Holmes County in our campaign office. They got on the phone and called everybody and couldn't nobody take us. And so, we had to get a man out of Belzoni to take us down to court the next day. We had to be there at 9:00. And he lived at Belzoni. He had a business. He couldn't leave till his workers come to work that day. When he got to Lexington, it was, I think, it was 8:30 or fifteen minutes after eight, one. Somewhere like that. You know how far it is from Lexington to Jackson? I'm telling you, I never rode so fast in all the days of my life, but we had to be there. Because if we didn't, they were going to fine us. See, they'll fine you in the court, federal court, you know. So, when (laughter) the driver drove up and we jumped in there and he took off, he was driving seventy and eighty miles an hour. You know that was fast, don't you? I told some of them, "I stood up in the back, (laughter) holding on to the back seat. We were going so fast." (Laughter.)



When we got there, he drove up in front of that place, he said, "Y'all got to get out and go." We jumped out of that car and run and got on that elevator, and upstairs we went. And when that door went open in the courtroom, you know, when you walk there, that door would slide open. And the lawyers looked back and saw us, you could see that big grin on their face. They were so happy! (Laughter.) Because they were going to fine them, if they hadn't. And look, we were the only three that went. We didn't have no support.



Now, all of the whites were down there, the businessmen. At that time, Pat Barrett[?], Artis Gilford[?], all of them attorneys; they was there. We didn't have anybody but ourselves and then some black people were from the North, and they was on their way back home. And they heard it on their scanner; they had a scanner in their car. And they heard about we three black women was going on trial, having a lawsuit. And they came. They stopped and came by there, and they was our support.



Tanzman: They were it!



Jenkins: They was it! They was it.



Tanzman: How did it go? Were you able to get it closed?



Jenkins: Yes. Uh-huh. Our attorney argued with them. Did you know Johnny Walls? He's an attorney. Honey, he's good, and Buck is, too. And (inaudible.) And, honey, they're good lawyers.



Tanzman: Johnny Walls.



Jenkins: Honey, we didn't even have to go on the stand, because (laughter) they just wanted us there. But, honey, they (inaudible) good lawyers. They argued that case. They won it.



Tanzman: So, they actually closed down?



Jenkins: They said, "Now, look," say, "y'all can either agree to drop this suit or either I got my witness. We got our proof here to tell it." Said, "Now, whatever you want to do." Said, "Now, you want to lose the money or you want--? Because you're going to have to pay."



Tanzman: They were actually going to fine them if they didn't close it down?



Jenkins: They were going to fine down. After they closed down, our attorney was going to fine them. Because we was there to witness. So, they agreed, you know, to settle the case.



Tanzman: It was a great victory.



Jenkins: Won that great victory! (Laughter.) It did. It was a great victory, and the next time, I filed a suit. I think it was twice again, that the redistricting the county lines, here in Holmes County. I mean in Lexington. You know they had all-white, you know, the most majority voters was white. They outnumbered the black. And so, what we did, we wanted to redistrict, so we filed suit to get that.



Tanzman: Were you redistricting to have the people voted in as aldermen? What were you trying to do?



Jenkins: We were trying to get people voted in as aldermen and all that. And see, the white could outvote the black.



Tanzman: Because they had at-large voting?



Jenkins: Uh-huh, they had a larger percent than we did. Uh-huh. And so, we got that settled. We got that redistrict.



Tanzman: So, the districts that black people were in could elect people?



Jenkins: Right. Right. Who they want to. Mm-hm.



Tanzman: So, what happened as a result? Did you have people elected to aldermen?



Jenkins: We did. We got David Rules[?]. I can't think of this other young man. They was our first black aldermen, elected officials. And then, now, we got two more: Otha Stringfellow[?] and David Rules. We still have two on the board.



Tanzman: So, you were one of the people that went in on the redistricting case?



Jenkins: Yeah. I was always on that. (Laughter.) Yeah, I was on that, that went to court on that and won that.



Tanzman: And you stayed active till now? Are you still active in Freedom Democratic Party of Holmes County?



Jenkins: Right.



Tanzman: I think they said you were on the executive board of it?



Jenkins: Right. Who told you that? That I'm on the executive Democrat--.



Tanzman: Oh, maybe Mr. Bruce did.



Jenkins: Yeah, I know he had to tell you. On the executive Democrat to help, you know, get the people set up these elections and all this.



Tanzman: Oh, you mean of the Democratic party?



Jenkins: Yeah. Of the Democratic. You heard it when they called for the executive Democrats to stand?



Tanzman: Yeah.



Jenkins: I didn't stand. The others stood. I didn't stand.



Tanzman: But you are on the executive committee of the Democratic party of the county?



Jenkins: Right, I am on that.



Tanzman: And you are of the--.



Jenkins: Uh-huh. And then I'm on the Freedom Democrat board. I'm on that board, too.



Tanzman: Yeah. And you keep on having meetings?



Jenkins: Yeah, we keep on having meetings. Yeah, we keep on having those meetings.



Tanzman: Countywide.



Jenkins: Countywide meetings. Yeah.



Tanzman: And do you play a big role in your church, also? You've been part of a church in Durant all these years, haven't you?



Jenkins: Oh, yes, I have.



Tanzman: You and Mrs. Winter.



Jenkins: Right. Mrs. Winter was Otis' mother, and I, after she passed, you know, now, I'm next.



Tanzman: You're the oldest one?



Jenkins: Mother of the church. Yeah.



Tanzman: Is that Fellowship Church?



Jenkins: Fellowship Missionary Baptist Church in Durant. Mm-hm.



Tanzman: You've been part of that all the years you've been here?



Jenkins: All the years, and a lot of those young people, they come to me for advice. Yes, advice. Of the church. Yeah, and our pastor and his wife just look like they just love me. So. And I do have a plaque that the church presented to me. I'll let you see that after we get through with the interview.



Tanzman: OK. How do you feel now about that history? Do you think there's been a lot of change in Holmes County over the years? A lot of good change from the work that people have done, like yourself?



Jenkins: Oh, yes. It really have. You know, the song says, "We're going to pay off after while." So, it did pay off. Our work, you know, hasn't been in vain. Because, like I said, we have all black elected officials, just about. We don't have--. I don't know of any white now on those boards. But they tried hard, but we worked hard to get these black ladies in there. And they was there yesterday, when they were standing. Did you remember them?



Tanzman: This was at the Martin Luther King Day celebration?



Jenkins: Celebration. When they stood. They holding those offices, now. And then, when the black (inaudible) walked through there, they didn't (inaudible) workers, you know, to be the what you call the manager, you know, the head of it. We didn't have. It was all white, and now, it's black.



Tanzman: Where is this?



Jenkins: The chancery clerk, the circuit clerk, and the tax assessor. All of them black now.



Tanzman: Big change.



Jenkins: Yeah, a big change. And, you know, it's a funny thing about that. Didn't any of the whites want to work in the positions under those blacks, because in the tax assessor, I saw one white working there.



Tanzman: In Lexington? That's all?



Jenkins: In Lexington. But all the others--. Now, I've got to go by in the chancery clerk's, because they all ask me to come by. "Ms. Bea, why don't you come by? Come by and see us. Come by." And I'll go, usually go by, and I didn't see any circuit clerk office either, a white working there, under Mrs. Earline Wright Hart.



Tanzman: She's the new clerk there.



Jenkins: Oh, yeah, she's the first black they hired, you know, in the courthouse there. She's the first.



Tanzman: She's the first?



Jenkins: She's the first. She come under--. You remember when a man was there by the name of Calvin Moore[?]? Well, she, after he retired, then she got elected after him.



Tanzman: She got elected to what?



Jenkins: To the circuit clerk.



Tanzman: She was the first one up there?



Jenkins: No, Mary was the first. And then, she's next. And before Mary was elected to the tax assessor, we had a black lady by the name of Annie G. Brown. She was our first--.



Tanzman: First black tax assessor?



Jenkins: Tax assessor. She was our first. Uh-huh. Yeah.



Tanzman: That was in the seventies?



Jenkins: Yeah. It went back in the sixties and seventies.



Tanzman: Do you see this as hopeful for the children of tomorrow, coming up? Is there hope because of these changes here?



Jenkins: I hope so because, you say, "The ground has been broken." Yes, and the way has been made for them, and it's easy now for them to, you know, accept it, that if they will. And hopefully they will. I'm hoping that they will come in and take a role. And I believe we still have some good black children out there. White ones, too. Yeah. In both races. I'm not going to down the white. Because we have good people on both sides, black and white. And so, I don't know if they want to come and work under the black, or with the black, or how. But it would be great to see us working together, because, you know, it's just one heaven and one hell. And all of us saying we're going to heaven, and we can't get along down here. I wonder what it's going to be like in heaven when we get there. (Laughter.) Together. (Laughter.)



Tanzman: Make a way out of no way!



Jenkins: The Lord going to have to be the one do that. (Laughter.)



Tanzman: Well, I want to thank you very much, Ms. Bea, for the time with you.



Jenkins: Most glad to do it.



Tanzman: OK.



(End of the interview.)

 
 

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