was transcribed as part of the Civil Rights Documentation
Funding for this
project was provided in part by the Mississippi
the National Endowment for the Humanities, and
Department of Archives and History.
Ms. 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.
Early childhood 1
Parents' farm 2
Working as a domestic 5
Emmett Till 6
Meetings at Second Pilgrim Rest
Freedom Democratic Party campaign
Protest marching 9
Ku Klux Klan 9
Black elected officials 10
Impediments to blacks' voting
Holmes County Bank 13
Police brutality 14
Voter registration 15
Filing lawsuits against the
AN ORAL HISTORY
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.
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.
How are you?
Bea, could you tell me when you were born and where you were
born? And who your folks were?
was born in Panola County, a little town called Sardis, Mississippi.
I was born December 15, 1918.
who were your parents? And did you have brothers and sisters?
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
what kind of work did your family do, your parents do, then,
when you were a child?
farmed. They did farm work.
they live on their own farm? Did they work for other people?
they had land. They farmed their land.
what kind of school did you go [to]? Where did you go to school,
when you went to school?
went to the school we called McDaniel[?]. It's out about twelve
miles east of a town called Como, Mississippi.
in Panola County. Right. In Panola County.
you have to walk to school? How did you get there?
walked, about five miles to school.
did they have, was it, like, a one-room schoolhouse? Or what
you describe it a little?
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
And did you come up there? Did you live in Panola County until
you were grown?
I did. I married in Panola County.
What was your husband's name?
name was Clyde Johnson[?]. My son's father. His name is Eddie
And when you married your husband, had you gotten through
school? Had you gone through elementary school, high school?
I had gone through elementary school. Right.
you working with your family, then, on the farm?
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.
did they raise?
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.
when you and your husband married, did you come to Holmes
County? Or were you working there?
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.
was your second husband?
name was Walter Evans. And later, then, he passed, and I remarried,
again, to a man named Louis Jenkins. His nickname was Hot.
(Laughter.) Right. So, I [was] married three times, and all
three of them's dead, now. So, I'm just a widow lady, now.
you have children with Mr. Jenkins?
with my husband called Clyde. My first husband. We had that
only one child. His name is Eddie Johnson.
when did you come to Holmes County?
moved to Holmes County in fifty-three.
[Mississippi.] And we lived there till 1966, and then [we]
moved to Lexington, [Mississippi.]
kind of work were you doing in Holmes County?
did farm work. [Yes.]
was Durant like, then? Were you in Durant?
[we lived] in Durant. [West on the Castalian Springs Road.]
And what was Durant like then? In terms of white and black
and the conditions that people had. Were things very segregated?
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.
(There is a brief interruption
in the tape.)
They didn't work in the stores and what else was segregated?
banks and like that, they didn't have any, you know, employed
there. Everything was segregated.
about the school that your son went to? Was he going to school,
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.
was the school like for the kids? How was it? How was the
quality of the school compared to the white school?
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.)
it have books? Much books? And labs and stuff?
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.
the domestic work that you were doing, what kind of wages
were you making then? This is in the fifties?
The wages for doing housework at that time were $12.00 a week.
dollars a week.
full time. All day. All day. It wasn't by hours. It wasn't
working by the hour; just the day.
about your husband's work? Was he working for different farmers
in the fields? Or was he working his own land?
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--.
rain was what?
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.
Oh, you didn't do it for them. What do you mean you were ginning?
mean, I wasn't going to farm anymore.
that was it.
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."
your husband continue to work?
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.
then you were doing domestic work, so, you were paid.
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.
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?
the (inaudible) boys, they got killed. You know, when they
brutally murdered him?
me about it. Tell me about that.
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
was Emmett Till.
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.
was back in 1963 or four?
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.
meet outside under the tree?
is in Lexington?
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?
Sue and Henry Lorenzi, L-O-R-E-N-Z-I.
Right. They moved down. And then, we--.
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?
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
that the Freedom Democratic Party of Holmes County?
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.
the boycott discussed because--? Why was this and was this
the end of the sixties? Early seventies? When was this?
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
that where you organized where you would go out in Lexington
to reach the people?
Right. To reach the people. To get them to register and vote.
And we would have our march called freedom march there, too.
me about the marching. What was that?
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
were you doing that?
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.
there other issues, also, that you were working about? I remember
hearing something about the police. Could you tell me about
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.
kind of opposition? You were beginning to tell me about some
cars that lined up.
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.
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.
lot of officials.
elected officials. Right. We have a lot of those.
there a lot of people involved in the boycott, in the marches,
of different ages? Who was out there?
just lots of them. The street would be full. The street would
they arrest you all?
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.
many of you did they pick up?
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.
Vanderbilt, V-A-N-D-E-R-B-I-L-T. Roby, R-O-B-Y.
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.
did they put up their land? Because they were farmers out
in the county.
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.
the people that bonded you out were some of the black farmers
from the Delta and from--.
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.
were watching out for you.
were watching out to see if anything come up, you know, that
try to harm us, or something. If anybody.
you were arrested and bonded out, bailed out, did you have
to--? You went right back to the street?
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.
sounds like it was pretty scary times, though.
was. Right. It was. And we had some strong men marching with
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.
long did you keep up this boycott for?
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.
is even into the late sixties?
was into the late sixties. Right. Right. In the sixties. Right.
your boycott, what effect did it have on the stores? On the
business down there?
they did. We was effective because they hired black all around
the square. We have black, you know, working around, as cashiers.
a result of this?
a result of this.
what happened to your job when you were working and doing
all this? Who were you working for?
was working for the president of the Holmes County Bank.
his home. Housekeep--.
were working as a housekeeper?
was working as a housekeeper, and his wife was named Nina
Wilson[?]. His name was Will Wilson[?].
that one of the places that you were boycotting? Or picketing?
I worked in that home.
I know, but the boycott, the marching, was that partly because
they didn't hire blacks in the bank?
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."
happened at his bank as a result of the boycott? Did they
start hiring anyone?
yes. They started hiring blacks.
As tellers at the bank. And they still have them there. Yes,
at all these stores, now, black work, you know, as tellers,
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?
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.
the boycott affect that treatment? Were they better after
you were out there marching every day?
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.
this really hurt their business?
it did hurt their business. It really did.
it make the treatment of the police better, towards black
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.)
the black sheriff get elected around that time? Willie Marsh?
he did. We got him elected. Sure did. In the seventies, we
got him elected. And our first black sheriff was Howard Huggins.
that was in the sixties, wasn't it? Late sixties?
right. In the sixties. In the late, you know, late sixties
on into the seventies.
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?
yes. Right. Right.
What were you doing out in the community from that office?
How were you working with the movement then? In addition to
at the beginning, we didn't have any black people registered
to vote. Maybe just a few, and what I was interested in--.
was in Lexington, right?
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.
legislator, uh-huh. And that was Robert G. Clark.
that in 1967?
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.
there many that were afraid?
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.
where he's from, right? 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.
were no blacks in the legislature.
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.
a great triumph for Holmes County.
it was. He was our first black elected official.
any of the young people involved then?
yes. We had a lot of black people involved. Yes, because their
parents was involved, and quite naturally, they got the children
was that the time that there were meetings in every beat and
every little part of the county, all over the county?
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.
this time you were still working full-time in people's homes?
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.)
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?
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.
supported you, though?
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.
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?
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.
he didn't get fired from it?
he didn't get fired for that. No. When he did quit, it was
on health reasons. Mm-hm. Yeah. He had health [problems.]
he got sick in the eighties, then?
he did. He got sick in the eighties, and he passed in eighty-nine.
you stopped working for awhile from the domestic work? You
stopped working for that family?
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.
he was very supportive. And, did you keep touch with people
in Durant and other parts of the county through the Freedom
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.
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?
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
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.
made it possible for them to conquer some of that fear.
you've been involved with the Freedom Democratic Party many
years, I know.
years, from way back in the sixties.
were you in some of the leadership of it locally in Lexington?
Were you helping to run things?
I did. And, too, I have filed three lawsuits against Lexington.
lawsuits? Could you tell us about that?
lawsuits against Lexington.
the city of Lexington.
was that about?
(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.
it just dirt?
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?
McGee's drive-in. The restaurant.
'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." 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."
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.
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.
did it go? Did you actually win? You were trying to close
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.
was it! They was it.
did it go? Were you able to get it closed?
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.
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.
they actually closed down?
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."
were actually going to fine them if they didn't close it down?
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.
was a great victory.
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.
you redistricting to have the people voted in as aldermen?
What were you trying to do?
were trying to get people voted in as aldermen and all that.
And see, the white could outvote the black.
they had at-large voting?
they had a larger percent than we did. Uh-huh. And so, we
got that settled. We got that redistrict.
the districts that black people were in could elect people?
Right. Who they want to. Mm-hm.
what happened as a result? Did you have people elected to
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.
you were one of the people that went in on the redistricting
I was always on that. (Laughter.) Yeah, I was on that, that
went to court on that and won that.
you stayed active till now? Are you still active in Freedom
Democratic Party of Holmes County?
think they said you were on the executive board of it?
Who told you that? That I'm on the executive Democrat--.
maybe Mr. Bruce did.
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.
you mean of the Democratic party?
Of the Democratic. You heard it when they called for the executive
Democrats to stand?
didn't stand. The others stood. I didn't stand.
you are on the executive committee of the Democratic party
of the county?
I am on that.
you are of the--.
And then I'm on the Freedom Democrat board. I'm on that board,
And you keep on having meetings?
we keep on having meetings. Yeah, we keep on having those
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?
yes, I have.
and Mrs. Winter.
Mrs. Winter was Otis' mother, and I, after she passed, you
know, now, I'm next.
the oldest one?
of the church. Yeah.
that Fellowship Church?
Missionary Baptist Church in Durant. Mm-hm.
been part of that all the years you've been here?
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.
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?
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
was at the Martin Luther King Day 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.
chancery clerk, the circuit clerk, and the tax assessor. All
of them black now.
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
Lexington? That's all?
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
the new clerk there.
yeah, she's the first black they hired, you know, in the courthouse
there. She's the first.
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.
got elected to what?
the circuit clerk.
was the first one up there?
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--.
black tax assessor?
assessor. She was our first. Uh-huh. Yeah.
was in the seventies?
It went back in the sixties and seventies.
you see this as hopeful for the children of tomorrow, coming
up? Is there hope because of these changes here?
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.)
a way out of no way!
Lord going to have to be the one do that. (Laughter.)
I want to thank you very much, Ms. Bea, for the time with
glad to do it.
(End of the interview.)