was transcribed as part of the Civil Rights Documentation
Funding for this
project was provided in part by the Mississippi
the National Endowment for the Humanities, and
Department of Archives and History.
Mrs. Lee Willie Miller was
born Lee Willie Jackson on June 28, 1917, in Stampley, Mississippi.
Her father was a truck farmer who owned 220 acres of land.
Her father died when she was eleven years old, and consequently
her family lost the farm in 1928. In 1930, Mrs. Miller moved
to Jackson to live with her grandmother, and to attend Jim
Hill School. In 1940, Mrs. Miller moved to Vicksburg where
she met and married Mr. Robert Miller. She is the stepmother
of two daughters and the birth mother of one son and two additional
In 1941, she joined Pleasant
Green Baptist Church, where she has maintained her membership.
She worked at the Vicksburg YMCA. In 1950, she joined the
NAACP and became actively involved in civil rights activities,
including mass meetings in churches, protest marches, housing
Freedom Summer volunteers in her home, and integrating public
Early childhood 1
Membership at Pleasant Green
Baptist Church 7
First impressions of racism
Segregated YMCAs 8
Membership in NAACP 8
Medgar Evers' murder 11
Church mass meetings 11
Freedom riders 14
Integrating Tubinella's[?] Restaurant
in Vicksburg 14
Dr. Martin Luther King at Pleasant
Green Baptist Church in Vicksburg 17
Marching during Medgar Evers'
Riot in Jackson 22
AN ORAL HISTORY
MRS. LEE WILLIE
This is an interview for
the Civil Rights Documentation Project. The interview is with
Ms. Lee Willie Miller and is taking place on July 29, 1999.
The interviewer is Don Williams.
Ms. Miller, just tell me, what's your first name, rather than
calling you Ms. Miller?
Willie. Listen, I took the I-E out and put the A there, Lee
look, I was born Lee Willie on my birth certificate.
So, it's Lee Willie, and you made it Lee Willa?
took the I-E out, and put the A there, but when I die, my
children are going to put that I-E in there where I belong
because it's on my birth certificate.
What was your maiden name?
OK. And today is the--.
Miller: I lived
Today is the twenty-ninth of July, 1999. (A brief segment
of the interview regarding scheduling has not been transcribed.)
Ms. Miller, when were you born? (Laughter.) Well, you don't
have to tell me if you don't want to.
Miller: I can
tell you. It don't make no difference, because--.
on. Let me know.
Miller: I was
born in Jefferson County, Stampley, Mississippi.
So, when did you move to Vicksburg?
father died. I said June the what? I was born?
seventeen. My father died April 11, 1928 in Stampley. My father
had a plantation down in the country. He had 220 acres of
land. He owned that land.
owned all that land?
owned that land, but this--. And my father
took sick. And two of my brothers was down in the bottom,
plowing. And so, me and my sister, we always were down there
playing with my daddy, because my daddy was a good daddy.
your father's first name?
Jackson. And so my father, he took sick. And he had something
like a bad cold, pleurisy. He sent my two brothers down in
the bottom. He had my two brothers down in the bottom, plowing,
and he went down there to look and see, and he sat down on
the ground. You know? No, he was sitting down. He had took
his coat off and sit down on the ground. It was damp, like
April. And Aprils are still sometimes kind of cool. And so,
we come on back home, me and my sister was with me. We was
two little girls and we was walking with Papa. And so, he
took sick that next day or two. And within three days, three
weeks, or two weeks, he died from pleurisy. Now, he owned
the place, but the white man, my father had borrowed $300
from the white man. He had a truck farm, like sweet potatoes.
You don't know about the country.
ma'am. Not very much.
had a truck farm, like string beans and tomatoes, and had
people out there working because he had three houses on his
[land] that he had people live on it, you know. And when my
father died, my mother, we didn't have no money. My father
borrowed $300 from the white man to get some, bought the stuff,
what he wanted to put in the ground for his truck farm. The
white man took--. I'm going to tell you this. The reason I
hate whites. I had to learn some things. And he borrowed $300,
and he had bought the stuff, what he was going to have the
truck farm with. And the white man didn't want the stuff.
He took the house. Took the house! Took all the houses. We
stayed there till we finished that crop, my mama and them
did. And see, I wasn't but eleven years old then or twelve.
Whatever I was, because I was born the twenty-eighth.
he take the land, too?
the houses. Henry Mack[?]. And two mules go to the branch,
to the creek, and water, me and my sister Lily May. She's
dead. Took the house. Took the farm. Took the whole 220 acres
of land. Took the mules, the two mules and the horses. He
took the wagons, and all that. And folks around in that area.
Two-hundred and twenty acres of land is a lot of land, you
took all of that. And, by my mama being my mama, and my mama
had five children. I had one little brother, two months old
or three months. I had another little brother, two years old.
I had a sister under me. Another baby died, but we didn't
bring that one up. But my sister under me, she was two years
or three years younger than me. Then I had a brother older
than I am, and another brother. My father had been married
before then, so he had a daughter and a son. The daughter
had married under me, then. I just buried her a year and a
half ago, up here. And, you see, they took everything from
my mama, and I didn't have the feeling, when I got up here.
Now, I went to Jackson. My mother died. Not my mother. My
1928. Look, he died April 11, 1928, and we buried him April
12, 1928, because at that time, they were having people, when
you died, one day, people in Natchez, with the tombs, with
all the stuff that died natural, you know, the casket and
all that, and then they come in and checked that night, all
night long. I'll never forget that. People came and sat all
night long at the house with us, with my mama and all of us.
You know. After my father died that Wednesday, we buried him
Thursday. And he brought the casket to the house. You don't
know nothing about a (inaudible) board and all that stuff
laying about there. You don't know nothing about that.
him on the (inaudible) board all the night. And the people
sit with them. House full of people, drinking coffee, and
making cake and bring whatever it is. They come to the house
and buried him the next day. I'll never forget my mama screaming,
"Lord, what I'm going to do with my five children?" It was
seven of them, but my other two were just about grown, my
daddy's first two children. Mama said, "What must I do? What
must I do?" And so, my grandmaw had a plantation of sixty-two
acres right down there now. Because I'm having trouble with
it right now, in Jefferson County, across from my mama's.
And she, we continued to work and Grandmaw said, "Well, I'm
not going to let my children stay down in the country." She
had five sons and three daughters. They were all grown, just
about. Her youngest children was Amos Hughes[?], A.D. Hughes[?]
we called him. A.D. (inaudible). She took them two children
to Jackson. All the rest of us was grown and all of them had
left except my mama. And then when she took them to Jackson,
she said, "I brought my children here, my young children,
so that they would go to college and finish high school."
Because they wasn't finishing down in Stampley, you know.
We had teachers and a room on down in there, but it wasn't
like really doing what you're doing. You don't know nothing
about--. You ain't never heard of--. How old are you?
fifty-four. Well, I'm old enough, I guess, but I came up in
the city, so I--.
wouldn't know. Well you see, you're fifty-four. My baby is
fifty-two. My baby is fifty-two. I have a son and another
daughter. But OK. But anyway, so when Grandmaw had taken her
children all the way up to Jackson and been there the next
two years or three, then that's when my father died. And so
she took Mama and her children, right that next--. I stayed
on down there about two years, and another sister of mine
stayed about two years. We was going to Moss Point School
in Stampley. So we stayed on there about two years and then
I told my mama I wanted to come home up there. I didn't want
to stay down there. So, then, that's where, I come up there
and went to school.
you moved to Jackson. And that was what, 1930?
so, at that time you were what, thirteen years old?
Thirteen. Yes, yes. Um-hm, because I was going to school.
I was going to a school called, it was called Jim Hill then.
Hill. OK. Yes.
little public school.
ma'am. Jim Hill. OK. Now, how long did you stay in Jackson?
Miller: I stayed
in Jackson, I don't know, four or five years. But it wasn't
too long because me and my sister--. My sister was going on.
You see, one while I had to stop and work some in Jackson.
Then I went back to school. Went back to going to school.
And one thing I was just disappointed over: you see, when
you come out of the country, you're behind, some classes and
whatnot, but we were pushing, because one of my brothers was
older than me. He had to come on and go to work in Jackson,
you know. He worked another few years and then he had a girlfriend,
then. He was older than I was. And then she went on to Cleveland,
Ohio, and then he went on to Cleveland, Ohio, and then my
mama went the next two years or three to Cleveland, Ohio.
And she never came back.
when did you move to Vicksburg?
it must have been 1940. Yeah, it had to be 1940.
Before the war. The war wasn't on yet.
I wanted to come over here. My mama lived over here. And I
come over here to Vicksburg, and then I met this man.
in Vicksburg. Robert Miller. And then I came in, must have
been thirty-nine or something, because I know I married him
in 1930, February or March, in March of 1931. I didn't know
him over five months. He was much older than I was, but I
married him and then I had children.
Miller: I started
getting interested in it, because my husband wasn't interested
in civil rights.
What was he doing? What kind of work was he doing then?
he used to work for the, what you do with the lights and gas,
or something like that. He was working there when I met him.
In the system, and then he started to, wanted to work for
himself, so, it was rough, you know. You didn't have no whole
lot of things. But he bought him a truck. Now, he had two
girls when I married him, but their mother had died. It was
right here in this house.
been in this house since 1941?
yeah. My husband died in 1977. My husband's been dead twenty-something
years. And they all finished high school, the girls. And one
of them started working as a, what was she doing there? See,
I don't think well, now, because I'm old.
doing pretty good! You're doing real good.
anyway, she was kind of like a nurse. She was a nurse. And
then I had my children.
many children did you have?
what are their names?
of them is named Sonny, Earnest Jackson. He lives in Cleveland,
Ohio. He finished high school and all down here and then he
said he was going. My sister lived in Champlain, Illinois,
and her son and all finished at Champlain-Urbana, that's--.
of Illinois is where her son finished at. So, I wanted my
son, children to go, my two, my daughters finished high school
at Temple High School. Both of them finished college at Alcorn.
your daughters' names?
Jean Miller. But she is married and she is a Gaskin[?]. She
got her Master's from Tuskegee. She got her AAA from, part
of Jackson State, Mississippi College, and part of Mississippi
State. She got her AAA. Now, I've got another daughter.
What's her name.
Miller Hemphill. She finished at Alcorn. She got her Master's
at Jackson State. And, she got her Master's. So, she taught
a while. My baby girl taught till she got thirty years old.
She taught at Vicksburg High School here. She first started
at Temple High. You've heard of Temple High.
then after she did that, she wanted to--. She put up thirty
years over there. And Mr. (inaudible). Do you know Mr. (inaudible),
she got there, about so many years, they give her fourteen
years of assistant principal at Temple High School. She finished
there. Not Temple High, fourteen years of teaching at Vicksburg
High. Now, she's been in the school system thirty years, till
a couple years ago, she decided that she wanted to get out
of the school system. She had spent thirty years there. She
could get a retirement plan, but she couldn't get no social
security because she wasn't but, at that time, thirty years,
I mean, been in the school system fifty years, and just thirty
years. She couldn't do that. She couldn't get no retirement.
No money for that.
Miller, what church did you start attending here in Vicksburg?
Vicksburg? Now, when I came to Jackson, I--.
I'm talking about Vicksburg.
right. Come over here to Vicksburg.
Green Baptist Church. And that was 1941. I've never left.
I've been there ever since.
been a member of Pleasant Green since forty-one.
I sung in the choir a long time. I taught Sunday School twenty-something
years. Twenty-two or twenty-three years I taught Sunday School.
I'm the president of the Missionary Society. I sung in the
choir a long time till I had surgery on these knees, and that
was it, then.
was the minister when you first got there? Do you remember
Chandler. L.R. Chandler from up in the Delta. And I've been
to Reverend Bournes over in Jackson. Reverend Bournes.
know when he died. And then I got Reverend Albert G. Walker.
He lives over in Jackson. He has three churches.
Now, during the fifties through the sixties. Well, let me
just back up just a little bit. When did you first realize
that there was a difference in the races? I mean, just tell
me when you first became conscious that you were African-American
and there were white people and there was a--.
Miller: I didn't
know too much about things like that when I was in Stampley,
you know, before I--. And when I got to Jackson, I began to
find out things about segregation quite a bit. And when I
used to come over here to visit my aunt and all like that,
I found out the difference. And when I married my husband,
and that's when I downright hated white folks.
Now, tell me what here in Vicksburg reinforced that racial
difference of relationships for you, in Vicksburg?
After I got here and I married and white folks didn't--. In
other words, they ignored you. You know. And you worked for
white folks, you know.
kind of work did you do?
work that I was doing at the beginning, I did, what they had,
the YMCA here, and, well, it wasn't that time. For the first
four or five years, or six years, I didn't do anything. I
stayed here with my children. Had my babies. But later, I
started to work at the Y a little. Listen, when I say the
Y, I'm talking about the white Y.
had a YMCA. We had one, because the same lady that give the
one for the white, the white woman Ms. Johnson, she gave the
material to buy one for the blacks on Jackson Street. So,
I worked a little bit for the white Y because what they wanted
you to do was when they have their, like their judges, or
have their governor, or whatever come over here, they wanted
someone to cater to them. Maybe I did it twice a week. Or
maybe if they had a big to-do, they had a lot of people there
doing, and I would be in that kitchen, with me helping them
cook, and me helping them do what they were supposed to do.
And then you have that job, but it wasn't a job, because if
it was a job, you'd be working there every day. But you wasn't.
Then I joined the NAACP.
made you join the NAACP .
Ms. Taylor. The Taylor (inaudible) in there. Ms. Taylor. Ms.
Gary[?] and all them. Their names were on there. I said, they
tried, Ms. Taylor said, "Ms. Miller, will you join the NAACP?"
Pink Taylor. I said, "Yes, I'll think about it."
Said, "Well, you need to join."
I said, "Well, I don't know.
I can think about it."
So I began to think about things
and thought about my daddy and thought about what they took
from us and all that. So then, in 1950, now somebody told
me I joined the NAACP in forty-eight or forty-something. But
see I had been married along there then. But, I said I joined
in 1950. But I know I started working in the NAACP. We wasn't
paying but two dollars a year, you know, at that time, in
the NAACP. I started going to--. We had meetings at the different
houses and different things. I went right on down there and
Ms. Taylor said, "You ain't going to join us?"
I said, "I don't know."
And she went on. (Inaudible)
somebody and she said, "Well, Ms. Miller, you should join
it, after all, I've paid two dollars."
I said, "When you paid them?"
She said she paid them. And
in the next couple of weeks or so or months or whatever it
was, I started to going. I never stopped.
were some of the people in the NAACP at that time besides
Ms. Pink Taylor, the people that left an impression upon you?
I took an active part as much as they did, at that time. Now,
my husband didn't want--. My husband was about eighteen years
older than I was. He didn't want me to be going, but I would
go. I'd go. I know I told some tales, lies. Well, (inaudible)
too old to tell tales, but then I would go. But I'd go to
the meetings, I'd go to all of them. I'd go down to Port Gibson,
go and then other people would take us. Go to Crystal Springs
and Hazlehurst and everything that went on in Jackson, I was
there. Meeting Medgar. Thurgood Marshall and all of them.
They were our legal advisors. Went to national conventions.
Uh-huh, Cleveland, Ohio. We had our National Convention, where
was it? At Ford Motor Company Convention Center, you know.
That's in Detroit. That's where I met Jackie Robinson. I told
you about (inaudible). Columbus. And then went to Chicago,
two or three times to a National Convention. NAACP. I went
because I had relatives there and I would go. My mama lived
in Cleveland, Ohio, for forty-something years, before she
took up sick and I brought her down here in 1944. No, not
forty-four. She died in nineteen--. Let's see, my mama's been
dead fourteen years. I brought her here. Went to Cleveland,
Ohio, and got her, brought her here. Now, I know I'm jumping.
keep on going. You're doing just fine.
I brought my mama here. My husband died in 1977, here. Just
got up and went to the bathroom, come back and laid back down,
and died. At that time I had this room, that room, and the
little room over there, and the kitchen and the bath. I didn't
have this room, then. But, I wanted another bigger room. So
I had it built myself. And I haven't married. I was hoping
that after my husband died, that I would have married, but
I don't know. I kept busy.
me ask you this: when you got involved with the NAACP, in
1950, what were some of the issues at that time, that y'all
would talk about here in Vicksburg? I mean, what was going
segregation. We didn't drink out of the same water fountains.
We didn't go to the same schools. They had nothing to do with
us. I know--. We just was a segregated set of people. I started
going. I would go to--. Anytime we had something going on
here, I was there. School was segregated. All that stuff.
who was leading or who were the sparks of the group at that
time? How much Cain did you raise?
I was in Jackson as much as anybody else was there.
your local chapter here, what were you doing here?
was this attorney named Brown? What was this attorney named,
used to come over here a lot? There was this old, what's his
name, went up to Ole Miss. Who went to Ole Miss?
that Jess Brown?
Brown came over here, but the man that went to Ole Miss. You
know who I'm talking about. Went to school there.
I just got so much stuff going--. You said I should have more
sense than that. (Laughter.)
you should have, because you're young.
Meredith, you're right.
you see, I'm supposed to not know because I'm eighty-two years
ma'am. You got me.
I went there. I went to everything. I went to Tougaloo out
there, any kind of drive-in, or whatever they did, I went
there. Any time, in Jackson because--. And Medgar. Medgar
was my friend. And when they shot Medgar, and killed Medgar,
we went crazy over here. That's true. See, Medgar's wife was
born over here, you know.
right. His wife was born here.
he met her, where?
went to Alcorn.
State, they met.
she went to elementary school, I mean high school and stuff
here. I didn't know her too well, because she lived across
town. I didn't know her too well, but I know she lived here
and she went to Alcorn. Let me see, what we started on. We
had houses burning. Chiplin ought to know because they burned
his daddy's store down in the Bottom. We marched. We marched
here, those that wasn't afraid. But we marched. Um-hm. We
met at churches.
church did you meet at? Who was involved?
we met at Bingham[?] Memorial. We met at (inaudible) down
in the Bottom. We didn't meet at St. Martin's. We met at Pleasant
Green. And now you know, your own people can get mad at you,
Tell me what was happening with your people, the folks.
talking about my people.
Come on, tell me.
I wanted to, everything that went on, I wanted to be, I was
a part of it. And we had a place burned out down here off
of Grover[?] Street. They burned that place down. We had civil
rights workers. Oh, they came. They came, child, they came.
And up at that other store up there, we had a, we turned that
into a working place.
that the COFO office?
office. Um-hm. Now that's where Mr. Chiplin, that's Charles'
daddy, he was hard at work at it, too. We met there all the
time. See, I lived here, and it was right up the street there.
So, when I go out this door, the COFO office is right up the
That's where it is. Right up here. Well, it don't belong to
them, now, it's a store, a (inaudible) store there now. And
look here. We met there. We had all, everything we wanted
going on there, and I know, Mr. Chiplin told me, that's Charles'
daddy, he said, they was trying, he said, "I'm going to teach
y'all something." And he would teach us, in case when we'd
go to Jackson, go places, or go marching, that we could cover
our face, so they wouldn't knock our brains out, you know.
Um-hm. Oh, yes, and I marched, too. I didn't march like up
in, way up the highway, but I would come this side of Tougaloo,
you know, maybe in a car, and then I'd get out because I couldn't
walk that far. And we were walking. Yeah. I walked. I walked,
oh, bless your heart. I walked with, who? Who else was coming
down here walking? But anyway, we did a lot of walking.
or Dick Gregory or anybody like that?
Dick Gregory came here plenty of times. And listen here, I
was busy. Yes. Now, I'm not going to lie and tell you I wasn't
afraid at times.
just tell me--.
Miller: I was
scared. Downright afraid. Because I know when we went out
below Utica, what you call it? Crystal Springs and Hazlehurst
and all like that.
we would go there, and we had about three cars going. Yeah.
And, of course, you know the KK was down there. And right
now I still believe that we buying clothes and food from the
KKK, and I don't like them. That's right, now. But, anyway,
we did all that marching. We went out there and they wouldn't
let us in to the place to march, and the R. Jess Brown was
here. (End of tape one, side one. Interview continues on tape
one, side two.).
it possible that I can just close that door so that the noise
from the air conditioner wouldn't pick up on the tape?
get it, not you.
now. Ain't no air in here unless I turn it on over in the
other room there.
well, that's OK.
you're still going to have it.
it's hot outside.
ma'am. OK. Ain't no problem. Ain't no problem. I'm--.
we could turn it on in the other little bedroom, maybe it'd
shoot over. I don't know.
all right. Well, we'll just continue doing just what we're
doing. Ain't no problem. Because I think it sounds pretty
clear. OK. Now. So, Vicksburg, although you were living in
Vicksburg, you seemed to be just traveling out and around
I was a part of the NAACP. And therefore, I would go to quite
a few of the meetings, now. That's the truth, because I was
dealing with Thurgood Marshall, and who was our leader then?
He's dead, now.
Wilkins. And all of them. And see, we were over at the Masonic
Temple and that's where we did all of our big meetings, there.
And I would go there quite a bit.
What was your position in the Vicksburg chapter?
They tried very hard to put me on as the president. But, as
I told you before, my husband was about eighteen years, or
seventeen or eighteen years older than I was, and he wouldn't
let me. But he never stopped me from going.
He wanted to know what went on every time I went there. Now,
I was there to bring the memberships in, and then I was there
to, Mr. Pink Taylor and I worked on putting things in the
paper, and so forth and so on like that.
kind of paper did you have and what would you put in there?
had the Advocate in Jackson then. We had some kind
of other little paper we started having here.
wasn't the Citizens' Appeal, was it? Because that
was the civil rights paper.
It was here. Yeah. I believe we did have the Citizens'
Appeal here. I do.
who printed the paper? The NAACP printed up the paper?
Wait a minute. I think the NAACP had something to do with
it. Um-hm. Had something to do with it. And it was very, very
touching[?] and very hard, but we continued to fight our people
to make them become a part of the NAACP. You know, some black
people didn't want to come become. Some of them were afraid.
That's right. They did not want to go.
were they afraid?
just wasn't used to doing like that. They were used to being
down and not used to being anything. But look, when the civil
rights workers come--. Now, I know I'm skipping.
come on. Skip on.
the civil rights movement down here, you know, they came down
here. We called them freedom riders. They came up to the little
place up there. That's where we had them. Now, I kept some.
My place was small, but I kept some. They would come here
and get in my bed. There's a separate bedroom back there,
and fall in the bed, and go to sleep. My husband told me once,
"Lee Willie, if them gals was coming here, you ought to let
us know." Because he would be busy working. And we would go
up there and help them. I'm trying to think of this girl's
name. Davis. She was from Detroit. She was a school teacher,
too. You know I was kind of shocked, but she was a white school
teacher, and she came and she spent the night here, and I
would cook whatever I cooked. Most of the time, they would
eat up to the Democratic party place up there. She wanted
to go to some of the meetings, a lot of the meetings, and
they would put our people in jail. They did that, um-hm. And
I would tell her sometimes, "Don't go." But she went. Well,
that's what she came down here for. And she did it. So, then
we decided to integrate. Eddie Thomas' wife. You talked to
Eddie, didn't you?
Thomas' wife, Ethel Smith. We buried her last year. They were
both older than I was, and the girl that I told you came from
Detroit and myself, we was going to integrate Tubinella's[?].
Nobody goes there but black folks that go there to cook and
serve, help serve, but we did. We decided we would do it.
So, we dressed up, and we went on down to--. Judy Davis had
a car, the one that came from Detroit. We got in her little,
old car, the four of us went on down there. We got there.
Now, this was, Tubinella's was a big place, where you eat.
The people working there had good food, but didn't nobody
eat there but white folks. It was coming out of Speed[?] Street
and right there where you cross the railroad, but it was on
this side. It was a big place. It was a nice place. So we
had it. We went on in, and we stood there. I said, "Now, I
don't know if they're going to let us in." I told my husband,
I said, "We're going to be going down there." My husband was
living then, and I said, "If we're not back up in here in
two hours or three hours," I said, "You come up on Cherry
Grove to get us." That's where the police station is. I said,
"Because, if they bring the police on us, we are not going
out. They will have to take us out." Because I had made up
my mind, we're not going to go out. I said, "And otherwise,
if you hear from us within that time, then you'll know we
are at one another's houses." OK. We went on there. They let
us in. They set us out in the middle of Tubinella's place.
year was this? Do you remember?
my husband was still alive, so my husband has been dead, my
husband died in 1977.
So, Ms. Davis was here, so was it before Medgar was killed,
or after? This was after Medgar was killed?
was killed before then, wasn't he?
sister died. My mama died here in eighty-five. My sister died
Now, when you and Ms. Davis, the freedom rider--.
the freedom rider girl.
And that was around what time?
was before we went down to, that was before my husband died.
My husband died in seventy-seven, so undoubtedly it had to
husband died in seventy-seven. It had to be about, yeah, the
late sixties. I'll say it like that.
somewhere in between.
Miller: I can't
really think of when.
ma'am. Well, finish telling me what happened when they sat
we went on in there to eat, and we dressed up. We did that.
And when we went on in there, the head man over us, and he
was looking at us very mean, but Judy Davis,
she was white, from Detroit, he didn't look at her mean. But
we went on in there. We had made up our minds we were going,
and Judy was with us, you know. And she was a young person,
but she taught school in Detroit. So I said to--. They took
us on in, and they set us in a seat right in the middle of
the place where a lot of white folks was in there eating.
In there. First time we'd been there. First time we had been
in there, hadn't no black folks been in there. And so they
sat us there, dressed up, we pulled our stoles off, and whatnot,
and sat down. And we sat there. And then, the next somebody
that come up there to us, they were standing around, looking.
The black folks that worked in the kitchen, was looking, too.
But when we were standing around looking, and then here comes
a maid, well, not no maid, what you call that?
And brought us our water, or just whatever thing we wanted,
then, in front of us. Waited on us very good. And then we
sit there awhile. We talked and talked. So, we wanted to know
what (inaudible) whatever that one could eat first. And she
said, "What would you all like to have?" And we decided what
we would like to have. And we talked. The girl, the white
woman didn't talk to us, but she would ask what we wanted,
and she was very polite and looked like she was glad to do
it. See? And we gave her a lovely tip. Um-hm. And so, before
I got home, some young boy was working inside of the place
there. He was dressed up in a suit. A black boy, and before
I got home, he went somewhere and called his mama: "Mother,
dear! Miss Lee Willie's down at Tubinella's, eating."
Mother, dear! They was spreading
it before I got home! You hear me? Spreading it before we
got home, where we were. But look, after we finished eating
at Tubinella's, and we left the lady a very good tip. But
he showed some ugliness, though. And he said this--. We said
we enjoyed the food. I said that. "We enjoyed the food. It
was very nice." Well, he just looked at me and rolled his
When Judy said something, and
she said, "Well, thank you. Everything was well." And whatnot.
And he just said, "All right."
Or something like that. Then we went over to Ethel Smith's
house. She had a bigger house (inaudible). Then we talked
about everything that had been on over there. And what was
said. (Inaudible.) And look, they served us real well. Now,
it wasn't no time before it was all out. But we were glad
it was out.
So, as a result of that, did black folks start going there?
Wasn't long before a friend of mine and he was working at
the school system.
was his name?
And I said to him, I said, "Well--." He called me, he said,
"Lee Willie--." He was the principal over there, too.
was his name?
name can't go in the paper, I don't think.
well, we won't worry about it.
All right. The principal at Vicksburg High School. He's my
friend. He just come down here and took me over to the courthouse.
James Sturgis[?]. You know Sturgis. Do you know Sturgis?
this Sturgis any kin to the guy who's running for sheriff
in Hinds County?
no, no. This Sturgis here is the one that came down (inaudible)
a long time ago and he's been up here so long that he's got
three big houses. And he's been here. He's the one that gave
me a job at Temple High School. I was there seven or eight
years. I took care of a study hall, and that's how I kept
those kids, you know? Um-hm. Because the white principal,
the white superintendent said, "Well, Lee Willie can't handle
And I told Sturgis, I said,
"He must be a fool." I told Sturgis, I said, "He must be a
fool." I said, "I can't handle black children? Them black
children? And he thinks that a white woman is going to be
on somebody having the black children?" I said, "He must be
a fool." That's just what I told Sturgis. And Sturgis knows.
And he asked Sturgis, he said,
"Do Lee Willie work in the NAACP?" Sturgis knows I do, because
I got all them memberships.
And he said, "I don't know.
She never said anything to us about it over to the school."
And he knew I was getting them memberships from them Negroes
that were over there. And he said, "I don't know." But I kept
on working. And look, put him in it, in my son's name in Champlain,
Illinois, his name. He had it, but it was in Earnest's name,
my son's name. People were scared. People were scared. I wasn't
scared of the devil! I got to the place that I wasn't scared
of nobody. Uh-huh. And then, after we come on here, you know,
we got, Dr. Martin Luther King came to my church, you know.
You don't believe it!
on. Tell me about it. I want to hear all of this. Come on.
I mean this is really good.
King. We had the civil rights movement children here. The
children. Civil rights freedom riders. They were all down
here. It is true that Frank Summers--. You know Frank Summers?
You never heard of him. You heard of him, but you didn't know
him, I guess.
that the Summers Motel people?
this is Frank Summers.
here in Vicksburg?
He lived here. And so, he and this little bunch--. He had
a bunch of kids, COFO, or some of them they called them. They
helped get him. They helped him bring the kids. Well, they
helped to bring Dr. King, but I'm the one that did the taking
care of him. You could bring him, but he didn't have nowhere
to stay. Have nobody to show him. Have a place to have a meeting
there. So we had a business meeting at my church, Pleasant
Green, and R.T. said to me, my husband, his name was Robert
Thomas, but he was called by R.T.. He said, "Lee Willie, you'd
better be getting these people here to come to Pleasant Green
to that business meeting." He said, "If they don't, the majority
is going to turn him down."
I said, "OK. All right." So
I called Ms. Taylor and Ms. Gary[?] and a lot of them like
that, that belonged to the NAACP. I said, "Y'all come to the
business meeting. Come to the business meeting." We got to
the business meeting. We was getting everything straight and
we got ready to leave and nobody said nothing.
My husband said, "Well, we
can't leave here, now. We've got to get some business straight."
My husband was a deacon over there, you know. He said, "We
want to know. My wife wants Martin Luther King to come here
and some of you say you want him and some of you say you don't
want him, so we're going to vote on this thing." And we had,
I think it was sixteen people said that Dr. King couldn't
come to Pleasant Green, but we had twenty-six to say he could
come. That's right.
me kind of read this while you're talking to me.
And it's sad that why would a--? Look, my first pastor that
I had, he lived up in Inverness, Mississippi, Reverend Chandler,
and I'd go up to Reverend Chandler. I said, "Reverend Chandler,"
I said, "These folks here, they ain't got good sense."
He said, "Mrs. Miller, they
can't think no better than they are. If they're afraid to
vote and they're afraid to join the NAACP," he said, "they
can't think no better than they are." But I got his membership.
Took his membership, but I kept it, because he had to go up
that highway, and he didn't know what them highway patrolmen
were going to do to him. He told me to keep it, and I kept
it. And he always used this word, "You can't think no better
than you are. If you ain't trying to raise up, you don't think
no better." But we had Dr. King here, and in Pleasant Green
Church. It wasn't no such way as getting--.
(The interview is interrupted
by a ringing telephone.)
so my pastor, Reverend Chandler, he, in the meantime, he was
up in Inverness and he was helping people up there in his
house to register to vote. That's right. And that's what we
all should do. And he said to me, says, "Mrs. Miller, they
can't think no better than they are." And that wasn't no (inaudible).
That's the truth. They couldn't think no better. And we have
gone through a lot of things. I'll never forget one time I
was going down, I was president of eighth district of PTA
at that time, all over in Jackson. Wherever eighth district
[is.] We went down to this thing.
We were supposed to be down
in Florida, so we went down there and I never will forget
Eddie Thomas' wife said to me, "Mrs. Miller, now don't you
go down in Florida." She said, "You need to go over in Jackson
with us because most likely they're going to put us in jail."
And I told her, "Well, honey,
you go on and you go to jail. And when you come back, I'm
going to help get you out." Because I wanted to go down to
Florida anyway to the PTA convention. But I've gone to different
conventions. Different. PTAs and NAAs, too. That's right.
And I have been so very hurt about Dr. King. I wanted to go
up in New York, you know, where we had the march, but I didn't
go. But I could afford to go to meetings in Detroit, in Chicago,
in Cleveland, Ohio, because my mother lived there. Um-hm.
me ask you this, now. After y'all decided to get Dr. King
here, what did you do, or who handled the arrangements?
we all handled. See, Frank Summers had some of the poor folks
children, he called them then. But so far as going there,
and arranging who was going to, and how they were going to
get there and everything, my folks over in Jackson. From what
I understand, they had Secret Service men all around over
in that. Some of my neighbors that lived, some of my church
members that lived over there, they could see them. And they
were white and black, over in there to keep them from getting
killed. You know?
They was all over in there. They brought him in there. Now,
my church was a big church. Of course, you couldn't get the
people, hardly, in the church, all of them in it, because
they were standing up in all, well they was sitting down in
all the pews, sitting down wherever, sitting down; had got
chairs and put them out in the middle of the street, and couldn't
no cars come from that way. Couldn't no cars come from that
this was in Vicksburg?
that church is still in existence now?
that's my church.
I've been there for years.
right. Tell me more about it.
anyway, he talked. And he had to bring them in and get people
back, and bring them in. And we had the freedom riders, were
there, too. They was up in the choir, sitting with me and
all the rest of them. We were singing and doing whatever we
was going to do. And you couldn't hardly, you couldn't really
and truly, well, you couldn't get in, a lot of them, because
they were sitting in all the windows and everything else.
But he was there, and he spoke. And we wouldn't let nobody
get out when he got through speaking. Now, we thought he was
going over to another person's house to eat, but, shoot, they
wasn't getting him nowhere to eat. They was getting him back
in Jackson on the plane. Because we didn't want anything to
happen. One thing we kept saying: "Don't let nothing happen
to him. Don't let nothing happen to him." And it didn't. It
didn't. He was here. Now, some people say--.
A lot of people didn't believe
it, but when it would come out in the paper and everything,
but I know a white woman did say, "Well, why would they put
him in a church? Why wouldn't they put him in the city auditorium?"
But the city auditorium, them folks there was fixing to get
ready to have their thing, down there where the white folks
live. These girls--. We just got through having one, you know.
you remember what year this was?
Miller: I think
it was sixty-four. Might've been sixty-four, because he was
dead then in sixty-four.
he didn't get killed until sixty-eight. Am I correct?
died then sometime after that. But I don't know where all
my papers are.
that. I'll find it. No problem about that. So, did you get
to touch him? Or they held you back? Did you shake his hand?
Miller: I didn't
get to touch him, but, believe you me, my daughter did. She
was going to make it to him. I said, "Girl, them folks will
pull a gun on you if you go putting your hands on him." I
did not touch him.
But your daughter [did.] Which daughter was that that met
where is Dolores, now? Is she still here?
now Dolores is here. She left from here. See, Dolores taught
a while, but she was over in Jackson because wasn't no money
in teaching. And so, she joined, she started working at South
Central Bell, and they wasn't treating her right.
But she don't want her name in the paper about that.
I understand. Now, demonstrations and marches. Now, what--?
I marched for Medgar. For Medgar.
you was just marching everywhere.
Because see, Medgar's been to my house. Um-hm. Well, he didn't
stay long. He was going somewhere else to another meeting,
but he come in here. But look. Oh, I'd go to all the meetings
in Jackson, now. Masonic Temple. I went to all of them. But
I know when Medgar got killed. When they called and said Medgar
was dead. Oh, Lord! I almost went stone crazy. And Ethel Smith.
It was during that time, I was getting ready for one of the
meetings up in Chicago, NAACP National Convention. And so,
we got ready, me and Ethel, then got ready to go there. But
I'm going to tell you about the funeral. We all come here.
We left the Masonic Temple. Now you wasn't nothing but a chap.
You wasn't there. How old are you?
well, you wasn't no--.
think I was in the Army then. I was an early, let's see, I
was a teenager then. I was in the Army.
yeah. But you wouldn't know nothing about all that, at that
we went to--. We marched. And I marched. A lot of them sit
up in the cars and left them in front of the Masonic Temple.
I marched from the Masonic Temple to the funeral home down
on Farish Street. What's the name of that?
the other one.
I marched. I say, I marched. I was tired, now. My feet was
hurting, was swollen. When I got on Farish Street, I went
into some of them little cheap stores, because I used to live
in Jackson, and I ducked in there and got me some kind of
house shoes or something and carried my other shoes in my
hand, walking. A bunch of us was. And I never will forget,
we walked all the way the cars and whatever was carrying the
other people along with the body. We were marching down there,
and a lot of us were walking, marching. We went on [to] the
funeral home down on Farish Street. Then we decided to come,
because a lot of us were walking back, and some of them had
people to bring cars to take them, but a lot of us were walking
back. It was all up on top of the houses and whatever, on
our way back on Farish Street. Then you had men going up and
down the streets with horns, bullhorns, or whatever, saying,
"Don't come through that way. It's a riot." And about the
time we got another block, it was a riot. Them black folks
was up on, them youngsters was up on these buildings and everything
throwing rocks, bricks. And dogs and everything was after
us. And you know when you get mad, you don't care what you
do. You know when you get real mad? You don't care what's
going on, what you're doing. I never will forget: I was coming
back, and I was walking, and Reverend Lassiter, he lived here.
(The interview is interrupted
by a ringing telephone.)
agree. I absolutely agree with you. I'm just trying to--.
them dogs and everything was (inaudible) and carrying out
my people. And look, I was standing right beside Reverend
Lassiter and the dogs ran up on one lady because we turned
off of Farish Street, we was going on Farish Street and turned
up another one, and so, this lady was standing next to me
and dogs fixing to rear up. And the dog was going to rear
up on me, too, because you don't think! When you get mad,
you don't think well. You ready to--. If the dog is going
to bite you. Bite me! Kill me! But anyway, this white, this
here old big policeman thing, letting the dog rear up on me.
So Reverend Lassiter was right beside me and when he began
to rear up on me, Reverend Lassiter just knocked me back.
Pushed me back out of the way. Then he put me in the car with
them, and he took me to some of the people who stayed out
there on Lynch Street. You know.
Now. OK. How did y'all plan, after Medgar's assassination,
did y'all plan who traveled to Jackson? Or who organized that?
well, we always had us two or three people who had cars were
going to pick us up. They know us. We were going. We didn't
have a car. My husband had a nice big new truck, but I didn't
have a car. But he didn't go. He went to a few meetings here,
but before I could get in the house, he wants to know, "What
went on? What did they say? What did they do?" You know. But
anyway, I made him join the NAACP.
let me just go back a little bit with the COFO office here
and stuff. And you mentioned voter registration. How successful
were you in getting people to register to vote?
back in that time, I got them.
What are some of the things that you did to get them registered?
And what problems did you have?
getting some of my people? Some of my people in my church,
I had no problem. I just told them what we wanted. I said,
"Now, I'm down here and I may get killed any day." You know?
But I said, "It's for all of us." And they did. Now, but they've
gone up on the memberships. We've gone up now to $30. You
know that, didn't you?
ma'am. I know it's up now.
it's up. But you see, it won't bother me. Because, see, I
told you about I had a niece, didn't I?
And she come down here and give me $30 for a life membership.
No it wasn't. She gave me $500, and $300 went up in Baltimore,
Maryland, and $200 went down to Vicksburg, here.
Now, let me get back to voter registration.
Oh, that's a rough thing.
Now, what kinds of things did you do to get people to register
I'm going to be as sincere with you as I can. I'm not like
I used to be because I would call and get memberships. You
know one while we had $2 memberships and one they had $10.
Last time we had $10 memberships, you know. But now, it's
gone on. Some of the people is going to stay there, regardless.
And some of them may not.
what kind of things were done to prevent people from joining
the NAACP? Stories that you can tell me.
some people was and maybe still is enjoying being part of
the NAACP. Now, I don't hear no one saying they're afraid
of it now. They maybe back up off of $30, but some people
were just actually afraid to be a part of it way back then.
the Klan or white folks do anything to intimidate potential
members? Did they publish the names?
burned places down.
Did they publish anything, like in the newspapers or something,
saying, "Well, hey, this person is in the NAACP."?
else had a news article around here, but anyway, I'm going
to tell you this much. Excuse me, but I've never been afraid
of it. Ever since I left Jackson, Mississippi, back in--.
Ever since I've been here in Vicksburg, I hadn't never been
scared of a honkey. I ain't never been afraid of them. I've
been mad at them, but you know I've got a few white friends.
It's two or three of them out there in my yard, because they
all know I'm a member of the NAACP and give me a donation.
You hear me? Because I ain't thinking about them. I ain't
thinking about them. Because my Bible says, "Love
your enemies." (Inaudible.) Now he said that to me. Um-hm.
But I had to learn to love because I used to hate honkeys.
They used to come--. I had one guy out here, put a sign in
my yard (inaudible). And another man was putting it in there
when my daughter was a debutante.
(End of the interview.)