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.
Mr. Griffin McLaurin was born
on December 30, 1940, in Covington County, Mississippi. As
independent farmers who owned their own land, his parents
farmed their own ninety-six acres of farmland plus another
250 acres that they rented. His siblings were four sisters
and three brothers. As they were growing up, all of the McLaurin
children worked the farm to make a living for the family.
Mr. McLaurin attended Mileston
Elementary School and High School as well as Tchula Attendance
Center. As a young adult, Mr. McLaurin's quest for a job to
support himself took him from Missouri, to Milwaukee, to California.
Loving farming brought him back to Holmes County where he
pursued farming as his lifestyle.
In the sixties, Mr. McLaurin
became an activist in the civil rights movement, including
working with voter registration, meetings, running the local
community center, as well as standing guard against violent
reprisals from militant white supremacists.
In the seventies, he ran for
the office of constable in beat four, and for the first time
since Reconstruction, an African-American, Mr. McLaurin, was
elected to the position. Currently, using funds from the Kellogg
Foundation, Mr. McLaurin works with young people, teaching
them to organically grow, and then to market a few, choice
vegetables that are in great demand.
Farmer's Home Administration
Loans from the FHA 4
Attempting to register to vote,
Mel Leventhal and the Constitutional
Defense Committee 8
Meetings in the Sanctified Church
Initial Head Start organization
Displaced plantation workers
Local community center 12
Running African-Americans for
Election to office of constable
Organic farming 17
Kellogg Foundation 18
AN ORAL HISTORY
This is an interview for
the Civil Rights Documentation Project. The interview is with
Griffin McLaurin and is taking place on March 6, 2000. The
interviewer is Harriet Tanzman.
is Harriet] Tanzman, and I'm talking with Griffin McLaurin
in Mileston, Mississippi. Thanks for being with us, Griffin.
you for having me to give this interview.
Mr. McLaurin, why don't we start with some background? Where
were you born? And when? And something about your parents
and your family? A little bit about that.
was born December 30, 1940. And I was born in Covington County,
Mississippi. [In] fifty-one, we moved to Holmes County, Mississippi,
where I am residing at now.
your parents' names? And what did they do?
parents was Griffin McLaurin Sr. and Annie Mae McLaurin Dampton[?];
[they] was farmers all their lives.
they have their own farm?
they owned their own farm, and that's what we were raised
on. It was four sisters and four brothers of us. Four girls
were the oldest, and four boys were the youngest. And that's
where we all grew up and was educated in the Mileston community,
and from there to colleges across the state.
kinds of crops were you farming?
that time our main [crop] was cotton, soybeans, corn, and
what kind of acreage did you have here?
had ninety-six acres of farmland that we were farming here
on this place where we're at, now. And we also rented another
property of 250 acres.
this part of the project? Could you describe how you all got
the land here in Holmes County?
this was part of the Mileston units that was set aside in
forty for the Negro that was underprivileged for having any
land, and my father's brother helped set this project up in
1940. He was working out of Farmer's Home Administration office
here in Holmes County.
was his name?
name was B.F. McLaurin. And he also helped my father purchase
this farm that we have, that he had. And during that time,
he was working out of the Farmer's Home Administration office,
and he stayed on Marcella[?], and then he helped with the
first part of the setup in forty, and then later on they set
up Marcella, and then on, the rest of it was set up. And when
he finished that project, he moved on to Coahoma Junior College
in Clarksdale where he became the president for thirty-six
years of that junior college.
OK. And so this was a way people who didn't have land could
achieve it. They were working it, and then it became their
That's what the government had did in the forties. They set
this--. This was (inaudible) from the "forty acres and a mule"
project was talked about in the 1800s, and early 1900s. And
the government set this project up in the forties and gave
every farmer that was eligible for it, at least seventy-five
to 100 acres of land that was required from the government.
So, this whole area was black-owned land. Was it?
it was totally owned by blacks on this project.
did you grow up working? Were you going to school? There were
eight of you. Were you all going to school and working afternoons
and so on, on the farm?
This was our total resource and income was working on the
farm. And that's all we ever did was worked on our [farm].
During that time, we came up on our father's farm, growing
cotton and soybeans and corn and growing truck patches.
did you go to school?
went to Mileston Elementary [School] and High School until
I got to the eleventh grade. And when I got to the eleventh
grade, they had built Tchula Attendance Center, and that's
where I finished high school at.
did you all get back and forth to school?
during the time when we came in here in fifty-one, we had
school buses, so we rode school buses every day.
could you tell me, after high school, were you working with
your dad on the land? Or did you go away?
we didn't have--. It wasn't enough resource here.
go to school?
I had two sisters had finished college. My father had put
them through college, my older sisters. And then my baby sister,
she was in college, then. And she was at Alcorn. And my brothers
and I, we finished high school, and then we went up to Coahoma
Junior College where my uncle was the president. And during
that time, my father wasn't able to supply all of us, and
I quit and went out and got a job and starting supporting
my own self.
kind of work were you doing?
I went up in Missouri, and I worked for a furniture company
up there for a while. And then from Missouri up to Milwaukee,
and Milwaukee to California, doing odd jobs and during that
time it was pretty hard to really get a steady job to be able
to, you know, make a decent living if you didn't have a skill
or education to back it up.
what brought you back to Holmes County, then?
Holmes County, when I left California in the early sixties,
I just was, I would say, a man that just was oriented from
the farm. I just had that in my blood, and that was my life.
you love it?
loved it! Just loved it. And that's the reason I came from
the north, south, and east and came back to the farming operation
because that was my lifestyle. And so, I have worked on the
farm all my life.
it hard to get loans sometimes? How was it with the FHA? With
the government loans and furnishing the crops?
in the seventies, when I really went out and got in the farming
business right, I was farming a little over 150 acres of cotton,
about 200 acres of soybeans. And during that time, we was
putting in applications to Farmer Home Administration, but
they would accept the application, and you probably wouldn't
hear nothing. If they made you a loan, it would always be
in June or July, but during that time, you had to establish
some other credit. And I got established with the Merchant's
and Planter's Bank in Tchula. And every time I would go and
put in for the loan, and I just come on back and put in for
me a loan at the bank. And finally, I would get the one at
the bank before I would get any hearing from the Farmer Home
Administration. So, I never did get a loan from the Farmer
if they gave it to you in June, that's way beyond the point,
[that] you needed it, like, in February or March?
because it was much too late. If you had just waited on that,
you never could have got no crops in the ground. And so, that's
the reason we had to go and try to acquire operation funds
other places besides Farmer Home Administration.
They were discriminating?
Because, see, I had put in for a home through the Farmer Home
Administration and this part of my father's farm that I was
trying to purchase at the same time. And they gave me all
kind of run-around, saying it wasn't large enough to farm
on, and it wasn't large enough to build a home on, and they
just kept on. Every time I put in an application, they would
just tell me, "We can't do it because it ain't large enough
to make a farm out of." So, during that same time, sixty-seven,
sixty-eight, I had been elected as a constable, and Robert
Clark had been elected as a representative for the state.
And him and I worked up a farm plan, and I presented that
to Farmer Home Administration, and they turned it down.
mean a farm plan for the farmers from this area?
I worked up a farm plan for this ten acres that I own now,
because they told me that I had to have a farm plan to be
able to acquire loans from the Farmer Home Administration.
And Representative Clark and I worked up one. And we presented
that to them, and they yet turned me down. So, finally I took
and was able to save money over a period of time, and was
able to buy this ten acres, and then they came and said I
was eligible for a loan to build a house, or whatever, then.
After you saved it.
I saved enough and purchased; 5,000 and something dollars
to purchase this land I have here.
backtrack a little. I know you were elected in that big election
in sixty-seven, and served as constable, but to go back some
to the earlier time of the movement, there, in the early sixties,
what got you involved at first in the trying to register to
vote, and trying to get other people involved?
during that time, it was a serious matter that we as blacks
could get involved with the operation of being a citizen of
this country. And during that time I was a young man, and
we had a lot of older people that was involved.
people of your father's generation?
most of those people were my father's generation. All our
younger people, my age, had left and went to the north and
everywhere else to seek employment, and that left just a handful
of us younger people here. Mostly myself and a couple more,
and that's where I got involved and started to dealing with
the civil rights movement and going to the courthouse to get
registered to vote.
did you first go down?
went down in 1963.
Oh, after the first group went?
I think I--. From what I see, I was probably the second group
because I went up there the second time. I didn't go up there
the first time, but I went with the second group up there.
that with Ozell Mitchell[?]?
Norman Clark[?] and Dan Wesley[?] and Roberta Clark[?] and
the Russells and Davis, Crook Davis[?]. We all went there.
And the first thing they say, "Boy, what y'all want?"
And we told them, "We come
to register." And Crook Davis said something.
They said, "Boy, you go down
to the Welfare Office and get you some commodities."
And so, he answered and said,
"We're not looking for commodities."
"What did y'all want, then?"
Say, "Y'all go on out there under that tree." So, they sent
us out there under the tree. And we had to stay out there
under the tree. And during that time, they had all those dogs,
and everybody else was standing around with their guns and
all that kind of stuff, but we stayed there.
that Crook Davis, Shadrach Davis?
they sent you out to a tree?
they sent us out under a tree, and told us to stay out there
till they could wait on us, and we stayed out there maybe
three hours, four hours before anybody came out there and
said anything. You know, just let us stood up out there. And
finally they did come out there and ask us what we want.
that the registrar, McClellan?
he was involved. They was other whites with him. You know.
It wasn't just him by himself, but it was others there with
him, because I think Calvin, our sheriff was there with him
and quite a few more of the citizens.
that Calvin Moore?
that was Calvin Moore. He was sheriff during that time. And
he was along with them, and four or five more of the citizens
that was standing in the courthouse door with the guns and
them big dogs, and so they all came over there and stood around
and McCullough[?]. That's what he was named. Henry McCullogh.
He was the one that started talking to us.
guns and the dogs were the deputy sheriffs? People they just
deputized that day?
It might have been one or two of them deputies, but most of
them was just deputized to, I guess, harass us when we come
up there [and] keep us out of the courthouse. That's all I
frightening. Did they let anybody go in at all?
that day. They told us to come--. Well, they didn't tell us
to come back. I think we went back the next couple of days,
and then that's when they asked us had we paid our poll tax.
And we asked them what was that, and then they tried to explain
to us what a poll tax was. And then they, finally, gave us
a sheet, had, I think, around ninety-nine questions on it.
And we didn't know nothing about it, and I'm pretty sure they--.
(Laughter.) And so, it was Greek to us because we didn't know
nothing about all that and the poll tax and all this stuff
that had to [be] paid because we hadn't, you know, hadn't
ever been informed about it.
wanted you to pay a poll tax going back a few years, didn't
They wanted us to pay poll tax, which we didn't know anything
about poll tax. If we had to pay them, and we wouldn't have
been knowing what we were paying them for, anyway.
kinds of questions were they asking you? Do you remember any
mostly, that day, they were just asking us what did we want.
And everything we said, it was just like a joke to them. You
know. They were just--. One said something; the other one
would laugh about it. You know. And act like, you know, we
was just, didn't know what we was doing, and we should have
went on home, and never returned. But we did. We went, but
of you came back despite that?
came back the next day.
was in May, 1963?
Mm-hm. And finally, they did give us them big sheets of paper,
but, quite a few of us put our names and address and different
things on them, but that was it. You know. We didn't know
how to fill out all those questions [that] was on there.
were asking all kinds of questions that they
probably couldn't answer themselves.
because the same questions that they had asked about the poll
taxes, and all this here, looked like somebody just drew up
some information and presented it to us to harass us because
they knew we didn't know anything about this.
Did they do anything about putting names in newspapers? The
people who tried to register? Did they publish--?
they didn't do anything. Only thing that they did was just
ask us, during that time, "What do y'all want?" Just like
we just come up there to set around and look. And they know
what we was up there for. And we indicated we was up there
to register to vote.
did you come back until then? Or, how did you end up getting
went back and finally, after they filed that lawsuit, and
they told them that we didn't have to fill out that, they
got a smaller form that had maybe eighteen or twenty questions
on it. And we filled them out, and that's when we got a chance
to get registered during that time.
did you actually get registered?
not really sure, but I think it was around August or September,
somewhere like that.
year, right. Mm-hm.
filed a lawsuit about the form?
I think it was Mel Leventhal, the one [who] was negotiating
during that time.
was the lawyer from the Constitutional Defense Committee.
you or your family suffer any reprisals? Was there any harassment
because you did go down there? Or problems about getting loans,
specifically around that?
we had, at least, I had quite a few threats on my life, and
my brother. And I don't remember no threats against my father,
but I was sent quite a few bad things. I'm sure it had to
come from the white side, you know, because blacks were the
ones who brought it to me. But--.
it was just word of mouth.
It was just word of mouth. Yeah. Right. So, we didn't let
that bother us because they said several times that they were
coming to burn my house down and they were going to do this
and different things, and we went right along just like we
always had, and figured that whatever was going to be, was
going to be.
you guarding your house at all?
during that same time, yes, we were guarding all our houses
and along with that community center up there, during that
same time, because it was somebody, we had formed a little
group that was controlling the community and keeping an eye
on our community center up there.
had a group of farmers that were looking out for the security?
During that time, most of the same people that had went up
for the registration to vote, those were the ones that we,
you know, we were having meetings in the Sanctified Church
up there, before we got the community center built. And after
we got the community center built, then that was later on
down into the--. That was sixty-four, fall of sixty-four.
moved over to the center to meet?
the Sanctified Church was the first place?
was the first place. Right.
was it called?
was just Sanctified Church. Now, it's New Jerusalem, but back
then, it was just named Sanctified Church. It was just Sanctified.
I never did--. You know, I used to attend church there all
the time, but I never did know at that time what--. We just
called it Sanctified Church. And that's where we all got started.
Well, it got burned down. So, we don't know who burned it
down. (Inaudible) it got burned down. You know.
got burned in, it had to be early in sixty-four. I don't know
what month, but it burned in sixty-four. And that's where
we first started Head Start. Head Start came from that same
place and then dispersed from there all over the county, and
probably all over the state.
church burned. It was destroyed?
it burned, and they rebuilt it. And I don't know what happened,
but it got burned down one night. And we had got the community
center built at that time. But the church--.
beautiful, huge community center.
Beautiful community center and that gave most people in this
area and other areas to come in and we sat down and that's
where most of our strategy and all our information dispersed
you were meeting in the community center, it was farmers and
also plantation workers, both?
in the beginning. The only thing was there was the people
that lived on the project. And Marcella, Mileston, Chaw-Chaw[?],
Dawson, Good Hope. Because during that time, the plantation
owners didn't allow their workers to even participate. Not
even to come to Mileston. And so there was a long time, it
was way, at least four or five years later before they even
would come out and get involved. You know. And most times,
they would send maybe one off the farm, but that would just
be a person to come in, and set around, and get what he could
get and carry it back to them. The information.
Came more as a representative to bring back to the plantation
after then, we got most of the, during the late sixty-five,
four, sixty-five, we started to getting them off the plantation
and different things. Getting them registered and getting
them to vote. And then that's when they started putting so
many of them off of the places. And then that's how so many
of them got to Mileston, that they didn't have no other place
to go. So, we had some vacant through this area, and we thought
of letting them come in. And that's the reason we got so many
of them in here, now, because they didn't have nowhere else
to go when they got put off the plantation.
farmers tried to find housing for them? You mean, they came
and worked for the farmers here? Some of those plantation
workers who were thrown off?
Some of them got a chance to work for the other farmers in
the area, but a lot of them, you know, they were mostly seeking
shelter because they didn't have nowhere else to live after
they got put off the plantation.
found them housing?
found them housing and got them--. Well, we educated them
to be able to get Welfare and food stamps and a lot of things
that they wasn't aware how to be able to get because when
they was on the plantation, the man just said, "Go get such
and such a thing," because everything already--. Because most
of them didn't know anything about paying light bill, gas
bill, water bill, nothing like that because their employer
was the one that took care of all of that, and they wasn't
knowledgeable of anything. And we educated them to be able
to do a lot of this business for themselves. That other, you
know, the plantation owner had been doing for them. You know.
Because I know when we first started to getting them to file
their income tax and all this stuff, and most of them during
that time at the plantation, when their check would come back,
they would take the check and cash it and spend it.
And until they opened their
eyes enough to be able to say, "This is mine." And when they
said, "This is mine," they got took off the place, and they
burned the house down. And they put them off. And some people
had been working for two or three generations. And they sort
of rebelled against them, so they got put off. They didn't
have nowhere else to go.
you talking about ten, twenty people? Or a lot of people?
you're talking about maybe seventy-five to a hundred people,
you know. Or more. Because all of the plantations, then, had
anywhere from 110 to 115 families on them. You know. Because
after then, they come in and started with the chemicals and
all that stuff, and then they didn't need them anymore, and
they were willing to put them off. And most of them's housing
was so bad, and when the government told them they had to
start to having inside bathrooms and all that stuff, and so
that made them put them off worser then. You know.
And a lot of those machines started coming in, right? That
displaced people. The pickers.
The pickers and the twelve- and fifteen- and twenty-row equipment
and all that kind of stuff. And tractors. Larger tractors
and all that, and they didn't need all that man[power].
the independent farmers were helping teach with some of the
civil rights workers, I guess, but you were helping teach
them a lot about self sufficiency and how they could live
off the--I mean, how they could manage to live--off the plantation.
Were they then working on farms? I mean, or some of them got
their own land? Or how did that work?
during that time we kept having meetings with them and most
of those that was put off there that didn't have skills and
things, then some of them was hired by other black farmers
in the community and some of them that was qualified to find
other employment, well, they went and found other employment.
So, during that time, there was quite a few of them just didn't
have no knowledge of anything but a farm. You know. And those
were the ones that got a chance to be able to help some of
them black farmers; the black farmers hired them, and gave
them a little income.
they were able to not have to leave the whole area during
And quite a few of them did have to leave the area because
we didn't have enough housing for them.
When you were having the meetings at the center, were there
many threats against the center? I mean, was there a climate
of fear going on then, in the mid-sixties?
definitely was, because during that time, we had to spend
twenty-four hours a day and night to keep them from bombing
it, and they blew up a lot of cars on the road going to the
center and during that time, the Highway Patrol and the sheriff,
deputies, and everybody else that went toward that center,
if you were walking, or riding a bicycle, you got a ticket.
And they'd come in late at night and try to get to the center,
but we had our guards. We stood our ground, and whenever we
heard something that we thought wasn't right, we had our firepower.
But they got a chance to throw a lot of dynamite and blow
they wasn't targeting homes as much as they were targeting
the center because there some times when they would get close
enough to throw dynamite. Now, we was in--. And blow up cars
all up and down the road, but they never did get close enough
to blow up the community center which they were tying to blow
up. Now the merchants that had the gasoline and when we first
built it, we couldn't get lights at that time. We couldn't
get no butane because they wouldn't give it to us. And finally,
they did. One of the plantation owners told them to put some
lights in for us, and they did, but it was another four or
five years before we got a chance to get some butane. They
never would. We had to put a wood heater in there, and then
we went and cut some wood, and that's how we heated the community
And it was run by the local community, basically, wasn't it?
local community. We had young ladies in the community that
was, had knowledge and skills enough to do these things, and
different ones run it.
that Rosie Head[?] and Elise Galleon[?] and Zelma[?]?
that time, yes, it was Rosie Head and Thelma Head[?] and Elise
Galleon and Zelma Williams and Catherine McLaurin[?] and Rose
Berta Clark[?] was all involved during that same time, too.
And were your folks and your brothers and sisters part of
this, or were your brothers and sisters mostly gone then?
Were you one of the few that was here, from your family?
I was the only one here during that time. All my brothers
and sisters had finished high school and left the state. And
they was in and out, every one, but they was all out of state.
I was the only one left.
And when more people were getting to vote after the Voting
Rights Act was passed and people were organizing so much,
Holmes County was one of the strongest in the state, I gather,
for local community meetings and for county-wide meetings
that every beat had some meetings going on. You were eventually
part of the effort to run people for office for all the offices.
Right? For a whole series of offices in the state in sixty-seven?
Holmes County was the first county that ran as many. We had
four beats in, five beats in Holmes County, and we had a constable,
justice of the peace, and supervisor on every beat (inaudible)
in the county. And we ran a black on every post during that
time to get them elected to serve as officers of that beat
and the county.
they also ran for supervisor and school board?
we had people running for the sheriff's department. We had
people running for the supervisor. And we had people running
for the school board of education. And we also had somebody
running for the state representative.
that was Robert Clark.
true. That's true.
How did you come to be the one running from, this is beat
two? I mean beat four. I'm sorry. How did you come to be the
one running for constable in beat four?
during that time we had R.S. Love was the constable in this
area, and he was one of the most lowdown men you could deal
with. And he was just constantly harassing all the blacks
and giving them tickets and locking them up in jail. And during
that time, when we got registered and got the chance to become
a citizen, and then we met, and we said, we formed a group
of people we thought was qualified to hold office and then
we selected those people, and those people were the ones that
ran. And we had myself, Griffin McLaurin, ran for constable,
which I won. John D. Wesley ran for the justice of the peace.
Willie James Bourne[?] ran for the supervisor, and that was
all on the beat level. So, then we had people running on the
state level. You know. And county level.
Love someone who was in office for some time and really hated?
See, during that time the whites wasn't elected to any office,
they was appointed to offices that their peers wanted them
to have. And the person that had the most, I guess, hatred
toward Negroes, those were the people that they appointed
to carry that office out.
mean he was appointed constable. He wasn't an elected--.
During that time they would just appoint a person to whatever
office they wanted, and then they would just serve as long
as they wanted to.
didn't have no term.
wasn't a term.
he just served years to year, and years to year. You know.
Was he appointed by the county officials?
during that time, they just had people in the community, in
the beat, and they would just appoint whoever they want to
in there, you know, from the supervisor on down.
people who are registered.
Right. See, during that time, when we got registered, and
we got 696 blacks registered, and we didn't have but 96 white
registered voters in beat four.
So, you were way ahead in this area?
So, we should have elected everybody in beat four during that
time, but unfortunately we just got one elected.
was that the first year in some time that it had been an elective
office? And the position of constable was opened up as an
was the first time since Reconstruction that any black had
been elected to anything in the South.
it had gone from an appointive office to an elective office,
so you were able to do that.
That's what we accomplished when we got to be citizens of
the county, that when we ran for the office, then it wasn't
no more appointments. It was just elected from then on.
And when you first got in, who were you serving under?
you see, all a constable is [is] a sheriff's deputy, and you
serving under the sheriff, and a constable is the only one
that can arrest a sheriff in his beat. And the constable has
more authority in a beat than a sheriff has, but I don't know
why. If you go and study the Mississippi Code and different
things, they'll enlighten you on all these things, but it
seems like to me it's always been the other way around, because
the, I guess, the white establishment always had the sheriff
way up, and the constable, he was way down.
So, when you got in, did they--? So, this was the same Calvin
Moore that had showed up at the courthouse and had tried to
keep you all from voting. Was he at all cooperative or did
he try to block your attempts to serve your office? Did he
tell you what your office was?
at all, because during that time, when I got elected, they
called me in three days before the swearing-in ceremony started,
and they swore me in by myself, and then when they swore the
others in, they called all those in together and swore all
them in, at the courthouse. And when the county had to bond
me to serve as constable, and then when the county told us
that they couldn't bond us because we were--. It was me and
two other people, black, got elected over the state that year,
and we tried to get bonded for those offices. And they wouldn't
bond us. So, Representative Clark and I went to Jackson several
times and worked on some other bonding agencies because we
didn't have no bonding agency, we just had some representatives
in the state of Mississippi, so they refused to bond us. So,
Calvin Moore and (inaudible), him and I, you know, got elected
at the same time, only thing that he's supposed to told me
to be able to do my duty as a constable, nobody told me. And
I had to go to Jackson down to the--.
had to look it up in some library to figure out exactly what
your duties were?
I had to go down and study the Mississippi Code and get information
to be able to bring back for my people so I could serve them
you actually carried out the duties of the constable, did
you eventually--? Were you harassed then, too? Or did you
just go about your business, and were you able to carry out
what you needed to carry out? Or did they block you?
they did because during that time, each time I would carry
some of the workers from the plantation to jail, and all they
did was just call out there and told them to let them out.
And they would let them out, and they would be on back home.
And I had a white justice of the peace, and if I had any dealings
with any of the people that were on the plantation or any
whites, well, it wasn't never going to get did anyway, because
he was always going to throw it out or say it wasn't anything
It's like they declared war.
So, mostly I had the title, but serving as a constable like
I should have, I didn't get a chance to do that.
that didn't change over the course of the four years, much?
because I just had that white justice of the peace and all
the paperwork I would turn into him, well, most of the time
it would just get swept under the rug or just throwed somewhere,
and say that he would see about it. You know.
What happened in the following election?
the following election, the--.
it seventy-two? Seventy-one, I guess.
The position I had as constable, a fellow by the name of Howard
Huggins, he ran for that same position, because he was the
first black deputy that we had that was appointed by Calvin
Moore, and when he ran, he got a few votes more than I did.
And during that same time, they redistricted the beats. And
beat four just was a small beat, and then they extended it,
you know, to pass, put in Lexington, so that put more people
in the beat, than normally was in there, and so that gave
him a majority.
people from another area that didn't know you so well?
And then I got defeated that year, and it was then he served
as constable, then until he--. Then he ran for the sheriff,
and then he got elected as sheriff.
this time you were farming. You were still farming the land,
as well, right?
I was. All that time I was just farming.
were telling me when we spoke a few months ago a little about
the land that you're farming and the fact that there are now
some young people that are working in part of it, and one
of the things we were talking about was organic farming, that
your father--. I asked you about that kind of farming that
you were doing, and you said that that went back in your family
some, to do some of the farming without the heavy chemicals.
Could you tell me a little about that?
Over the years, the seventies, and the eighties, I farmed
this land and the other land, and in the late eighties, I
went to I considered an experiment back with the organic farming.
And it had been a part of my father's history for a long time
to farm with less chemicals, less herbicide, and farmers,
during that time, we used to use mostly corn stalks and other
organic things that was natural. And put it back into the
soil and let it grow. And I did that for eight or ten years,
and I was real successful with it.
got a good yield, and it was so much healthier?
And I had a good year, each year, and I supplied this whole
area with their first vegetables for over ten years, like
that. And in ninety-five, I had a massive heart attack, and
I was put in the hospital, and now, I had two heart surgeries,
I had two bypasses, and since then the doctor had took me
off of working, and I was sort of just laying around, and
the young man, Calvin Head[?], he had came down and talked
to me about, one Sunday morning, and talked to me about some
gardening. He wanted to start this program, and he didn't
know anything about farming and truck patching in the garden
and vegetables. And so he came and talked to me about it.
So, I sat down and talked to him about it, and so he--.
Could you wait just a minute, Mr. McLaurin? I'm going to switch
it over. Switch the tape to the other side. OK.
(End of tape one, side one.
The interview continues on tape one, side two.)
was the son of Rosie, the one who had worked with the community
center in the sixties? And with the movement a lot?
true. He was a bright young man. He was born and grew up here
in the community, and he finished high school here, and he
went off to college, Mississippi Valley State and got a B.S.
degree, and he came back, and he didn't want to go into teaching,
and he didn't want to go off into other activities. He wanted
to live and stay in our community. And when he come to me
for advice, we sat down and we talked about it, and then I
was his plan? He was trying to learn about organic farming
so he could do it with some of the youth?
That was his main goal, but I didn't know it at that time.
And so, he sat down and we talked about it, and he knew I
knew all the things about it. And so, that's the reason he
had came to me. And then I talked to him, and I told him I'd
be willing to sit down and show him and I told him I had my
land here, this ten acres here that I wasn't using. And I'd
be willing to let them have it to grow any kind of vegetable,
and I could sort of help coordinate the effort in learning
them how to do organic farming. And so, that's what we got
started. He wrote a proposal, and he got funds from the Kellogg
Foundation, and we formed what we now has: a youth project.
Twenty-two youths that we learned how to farm organic vegetables.
And so during that time, we--.
you've been teaching them a lot.
I taught them how to prepare the soil and plant the seeds
and do the harvest. And also taught them how to weed it and
taught them how to plant different kinds of clover and different
stuff to keep the ground organic for the winter and to catch
the oxygen, phosphates, and potash, and different stuff out
of the air and put in the ground, that you wouldn't have to
use chemicals and different stuff to go in the ground. You
could catch that same oxygen and potash and phosphates out
of the air and put it into your ground. And then you take
that clover crop that you had that fall and turn it under
and then let it, you use that as organic fertilize.
you are doing this at a time that a lot of farmers are full-force
going into pesticides and all kinds of poisons, aren't you?
So, your approach is very different from them, and it sounds
a whole lot healthier.
because during the time that I had row crop farming with cotton,
I never would put the chemicals on this ten acres of land.
I always had in mind one day that I wanted to just grow vegetables,
but that was before I had the heart attack. But I always just
had in mind, I know one day if I lived long enough, that was
always going to be used for just vegetables, and I never would
put the chemical on it. And so, so far, it has paid off.
the kids--? Are they teenagers, that he has gotten together?
Now, we have in the last three years, we have five of them
is out of high school, into college, and we got a chance to
give some of them some scholarships and the funds that we
accumulated from Kellogg, we got a chance to give them a weekly
stipend out of that, and then what they made from the vegetables,
we got a chance to get a contract with the Cisco[?] Company
in Jackson, and they bought all our squash and cucumbers and
zucchini and bell paper.
a huge company, isn't it?
They bent over backwards to help us because we went and sat
down, and we told them exactly what we were planning, and
they were willing to help us before the children could be
helped. And so, we formed a group, and then we got a chance
to set up a president, a treasurer, a secretary, and all in
that group. And we would take the funds that we were accumulating
from the gardening, and we opened up a bank account at our
local bank in Tchula, and then at the end of the year when
all the vegetables get harvested, then we would take that
and divide it among the children because the stipend would
go maybe eight to nine months, and it was cut off. And then
the children could take the funds that they accumulated from
the vegetables and buy their school clothes and help at home,
whatever, you know.
Sounds terrific. So, it's twenty-something kids at a time
that a lot of people are not farming at all at that age.
and most of them had never had an opportunity to even put
a seed in the ground to even see it germinate or nothing.
Most of them were so excited when they could plant a seed
and see it germinate and come up and grow. And then we made
sure each job--. We cut the--. I had to carry them and put
them in groups of three and then they had, each one of them
had a segment in the field that they had to see about, and
see whichever one did the best, that's the one got the biggest
[prize]. We set up a little prize to make sure that they worked
to accomplish this goal.
mean a prize for the one who grew the best?
that's what we did and it worked out fine, so now, each year,
as the children finish high school, then we replace them with
other children in the community.
said something about scholarships. Is that from the proceeds
of what you're able to sell to this company?
Now, we use some of that and also Kellogg had some funds that
we could use also for scholarships.
this is for them to go on to college?
For their education.
you're actually carrying on another form of movement activity.
This is very much teaching them the skills and having them
learn something that they--. And also it being a much healthier
kind of farming for people to eat this produce. Are you also
selling it locally?
We're selling it locally, and also we're getting our younger
generation involved in farming again, because most of them,
their foreparents or their parents that came up, they don't
have any knowledge about where their food comes from and what
it consists of. And a lot of them had never known the food
that they eat to come from the soil. They just thought it
come from the supermarket. You know. (Laughter.) And now,
they will be able to pass this on to their younger brothers
and sisters and show them the things that they were doing.
This must be tremendously satisfying for them to see something
that they planted, to grow. Just like you had that satisfaction
all these years.
so true because they ask so many questions. Our younger generation,
the environment that they're living in, they don't even know
it. You know. It's different to just know your books, and
read and write, but you need to know your environment. You
got every kind of different thing on the face of the earth,
right there at your fingertips, and you don't know anything
about it. And this is one of the things that I'm committed
to. To help them learn every tree in the woods, the name of
every tree, and the name of every vegetable that they plant
and what can it yield, and, you know, all the different ways
that you can prepare that food, you know, for a meal. And
I had the opportunity when I came up to learn how to cook
most of the vegetables that can be grown because my mother
made sure that we did that because she say, "You never know
what you're going to have to have in life."
taught both the daughters and the sons?
true. And when the daughters was older than the sons, and
they had an opportunity to leave home before the sons, so
the sons had to take over where they left off.
were you in the family? Were you one of the youngest?
I'm the oldest son in the family. I'm right behind my baby
you're the fifth child?
the fifth child.
And do you see that a lot of people are abandoning the farms
now, or the generations are getting away from it? Do you think
that the organic farming may, and the farming that is being
done, that some of those kids may stay in, doing this for
now, that's our main goal to get our local farmers, black
farmers, in our community to sort of go into sustainable farming
farming. And their parents, they didn't teach them to do anything
but sort of go to row crop, like soybeans, cotton. And now
it's mandatory that you be able to--. You're going to have
to leave the row crop, soybeans and cotton, to be able to
stay on your little, small farms now. And it's a good way
now if you got any knowledge of knowing how to grow vegetables,
it's a good income in it. And if you put that diversity into
it, that you can be able to support your family.
there much more market for the vegetables than there is in
terms of prices and so on than for the soybeans and the cotton?
The prices that you can get now from vegetables, it would
give a person a good income because the demand done got so
great for sweet potatoes or cucumbers, squash or tomatoes,
or zucchini. All these different kinds of plants that you
can grow now that you can really--. Butterbeans, snap beans.
It's just a great demand for them, if you know how to grow
them. And it's a great market for them.
And do you think that some of the younger people are thinking
about staying, now, more? Staying in the county? Because I
know a lot of people do leave, but do you feel like some of
the ones who are working with this might want to at least
continue to do farming whether or not it's in Holmes County.
But that there may be a future for farming in this county.
it's a lot of them have a bright future in the farming, and
a lot of them are concerned about the farming. See, I don't
think, from what I have learned over the past five to ten
years, our children are not getting the basics of farming
from the educational system in the county. Because I teach.
They're not abreast of what the farming consists of, and they're
not able to hand it on down to their child. I mean to that
generation of people. And their parents are not aware. So,
if we can come up with more education on farming, I'm sure,
we would have quite a few more that would be able to go into
I gather there are a lot of people who are renting the land.
You know the children of a lot of people who were in the project,
and the children of a lot of farmers who may not want to come
back, but they do want to hold onto the land, are actually
renting them out to other people.
it's a lot of--. All our older people have just about died
out, and now, they are yet holding onto the land. And a lot
of them would be back to the South if they had some way to
make a living. You know. Besides row crop, and this is one
of the alternatives that we need to start looking at, more
closely, because the South is the only place that we yet got
enough land to be able to accomplish the people that are going
to be in the future because, you know, the housing and the
land is one of the--.
the South is really one of the hopes in terms of continuing.
It's one of the only areas in terms of continuing this tradition.
Are you farming any other area? Or is this where you're focusing?
On the ten acres?
the ten acres now. Just the ten acres. That's all. And I'm
mostly just, sort of on a supervisor's capacity, you know,
because I let them have it, and I mostly just am giving them
the knowledge that I have to share with them. To be able to
raise good quality food.
like you're doing what your father did with you.
That's the way my father taught us. That regardless of where
you go and where you come from, you're going to have to learn
all the things that you can learn to be able to survive in
this world. And if you live out in the rural or on the farm
and you've got land, you should be able to at least make you
a living on it, or be able to grow you some food yourself.
And that's what we don't have. We've got a lot of younger
generation; the older people died out, and they're yet around,
but they don't know how to grow nothing because they never
was taught how to grow nothing but cotton. And cotton is all
right in its place, but you've got to have some food to eat.
this is what all of them now, it's quite a few of our local
farmers, now they want to go into the sweet potato business,
but they don't know nothing about growing sweet potatoes,
so they had several meetings with me and wanted to know would
I sit down, you know, and sort of get them started, and show
them the type land that they need to use.
you helping them learn how to do the sweet potatoes?
Now, I told them I was going to help them and get them, the
main thing is being able to get the land preparation and being
able to set them out at the right time.
Was that related to when Congressman Benny Thompson[?] came
down and was talking with people here a while back, about
that there was a market for sweet potatoes and that people
came together from a lot of areas to find out about this?
That's what it was stimulated from, that he came in and we
had several meetings together and so many of our local farmers,
or younger farmers, they're working factory jobs and different
things and their land just laying out. And that's one of them
things that he wanted them to be able to start supplementing
that farm with that sweet potato, and if they get the chance
to learn how to do it, then they can go from small to large,
you know. Because they're saying it's a great demand for all
that, you know, for a long time.
you think it is viable, that people can actually live from
farming, now? That it's just partly a question of learning
which crops and learning how best to do it? I mean, that there
is still a great need for the food products?
It's a great need for the food products. Not only just for
vegetables. You see, back when our foreparents were doing
it, see, they raised the chickens, they raised the ducks,
they raised the turkeys, they raised the pigs, they raised
the cows. And see, all this generation, all that done left
them. And that was the way that most our older generation
survived because whatever they needed to eat, they already
had it. They grew it on the farm. And see the farm, most of
them don't know what the farm really meant. If you was on
the farm, you were supposed to do 90 percent of your food
from that farm. And this is something that this generation
is not doing. They're not being able to grow a good mess of
turnip greens because they don't know how. And this is one
of the things that we need to educate them on, how to be able
to do these things, because, you know, my father always taught
me, you know, your (laughter) first priority was your stomach.
You can buy a shirt.
got to feed yourself. And this is one thing that we're not
being able to do. We're depending on the supermarkets, and
the same thing in the supermarket, you can grow right out
on your own farm.
Well, I want to thank you, Mr. McLaurin. So, it sounds like
you're keeping on being active in a very real way for another
generation the way you were active around the voting rights
and active in the sixties, too. Yeah. Do you see that we've
gained some from all that voting organizing and from that
look at it in one aspect, and you see a plus, and then you
look at it from another aspect, you look at a negative, because
the thing that our foreparents fighted so hard for, to be
able to--. They died to become citizens of this country, and
our younger generation that is coming up, it just don't have
the same meaning to them that it did to us, when we came along.
They had the better education, but they don't have the, what
our parents used to say, "the mother wit." They don't have
that love that if your brother hurts, I hurt. But see, this
day and time, if one hurts, they don't think about that brother.
And the things that we accomplished, a lot of them are beginning
to slide backwards.
You think they don't have the same sense of community responsibility?
that's one of the things. I agree with that 100 percent. They
don't have that sense of togetherness like we did when we
part of the taking down of some of the history is to be able
to figure ways, find ways to bring that to their understanding.
You know, that's one reason to do some of this is to take
down what was before, what people were able to come together
and do, and, you know, what's still left to be done.
I think that's one of the greatest aspects of it: to be able
to have this information, to be able to hand down to this
generation, to see how our foreparents sweated and died for
us to be able to enjoy what we're enjoying today. And history
repeats itself, but it takes a long time. And most times if
you don't keep abreast of our people, we soon forget.
Well, thanks very much, Mr. McLaurin. I appreciate it.
(End of the interview.)