An Oral History

With

Lee Willie Miller













Interviewer: Donald Williams













Tougaloo College Archives





















This interview was transcribed as part of the Civil Rights Documentation Project.

Funding for this project was provided in part by the Mississippi

Humanities Council, the National Endowment for the Humanities, and

the Mississippi Department of Archives and History.



1999

Biography



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 daughters.



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 accommodations.

Table of Contents



Early childhood 1

Marriage 5

Membership at Pleasant Green Baptist Church 7

First impressions of racism 8

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' funeral 21

Riot in Jackson 22

AN ORAL HISTORY



WITH



MRS. LEE WILLIE MILLER



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.



Williams: Now, Ms. Miller, just tell me, what's your first name, rather than calling you Ms. Miller?



Miller: Lee Willie. Listen, I took the I-E out and put the A there, Lee Willa.



Williams: Lee Willa.



Miller: But look, I was born Lee Willie on my birth certificate.



Williams: OK. So, it's Lee Willie, and you made it Lee Willa?



Miller: I 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.



Williams: OK. What was your maiden name?



Miller: Lee Willie Jackson.



Williams: Jackson. OK. And today is the--.



Miller: I lived in Jackson.



Williams: OK. 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--.



Williams: Come on. Let me know.



Miller: I was born in Jefferson County, Stampley, Mississippi.



Williams: In Stafford?



Miller: Stampley. S-T-A-M-P-L-E-Y, Mississippi.



Williams: OK. All right.



Miller: June 28, 1917.



Williams: Nineteen seventeen.



Miller: It wasn't yesterday.



Williams: Yeah. So, when did you move to Vicksburg?



Miller: My father died. I said June the what? I was born?



Williams: June 28, 1917.



Miller: Nineteen 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.



Williams: He owned all that land?



Miller: He 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.



Williams: What's your father's first name?



Miller: Joe 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.



Williams: No ma'am. Not very much.



Miller: He 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.



Williams: Did he take the land, too?



Miller: Took 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 know?



Williams: Yes, it is.



Miller: And 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 father died.



Williams: In 1928.



Miller: In 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.



Williams: No, ma'am.



Miller: Laid 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?



Williams: I'm fifty-four. Well, I'm old enough, I guess, but I came up in the city, so I--.



Miller: You 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.



Williams: So, you moved to Jackson. And that was what, 1930?



Miller: Yeah, 1930.



Williams: And so, at that time you were what, thirteen years old?



Miller: Yeah. Thirteen. Yes, yes. Um-hm, because I was going to school. I was going to a school called, it was called Jim Hill then.



Williams: Jim Hill. OK. Yes.



Miller: The little public school.



Williams: Yes, 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.



Williams: So, when did you move to Vicksburg?



Miller: Nineteen, it must have been 1940. Yeah, it had to be 1940.



Williams: OK. Before the war. The war wasn't on yet.



Miller: Look, I wanted to come over here. My mama lived over here. And I come over here to Vicksburg, and then I met this man.



Williams: Here in Vicksburg?



Miller: Here 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.



Williams: OK, in 1941?



Miller: Um-hm.



Williams: OK. Now, what--.



Miller: I started getting interested in it, because my husband wasn't interested in civil rights.



Williams: OK. What was he doing? What kind of work was he doing then?



Miller: First 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.



Williams: You've been in this house since 1941?



Miller: Um-hm, 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.



Williams: You're doing pretty good! You're doing real good.



Miller: But anyway, she was kind of like a nurse. She was a nurse. And then I had my children.



Williams: How many children did you have?



Miller: Three.



Williams: And what are their names?



Miller: One 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--.



Williams: University of Illinois.



Miller: University 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. The one--.



Williams: What's your daughters' names?



Miller: Beverly 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.



Williams: OK. What's her name.



Miller: Dolores 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.



Williams: Yes, ma'am.



Miller: And then after she did that, she wanted to--. She put up thirty years over there. And Mr. (inaudible). Do you know Mr. (inaudible), the principal?



Williams: No, I don't.



Miller: After 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.



Williams: Mrs. Miller, what church did you start attending here in Vicksburg?



Miller: In Vicksburg? Now, when I came to Jackson, I--.



Williams: No, I'm talking about Vicksburg.



Miller: That's right. Come over here to Vicksburg.



Williams: Yes, ma'am.



Miller: Pleasant Green Baptist Church. And that was 1941. I've never left. I've been there ever since.



Williams: You've been a member of Pleasant Green since forty-one.



Miller: Yes. 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.



Williams: Who was the minister when you first got there? Do you remember his name?



Miller: Reverend Chandler. L.R. Chandler from up in the Delta. And I've been to Reverend Bournes over in Jackson. Reverend Bournes.



Williams: Came over. OK.



Miller: You know when he died. And then I got Reverend Albert G. Walker. He lives over in Jackson. He has three churches.



Williams: OK. 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.



Williams: OK. Now, tell me what here in Vicksburg reinforced that racial difference of relationships for you, in Vicksburg?



Miller: OK. 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.



Williams: What kind of work did you do?



Miller: The 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.



Williams: Yes, ma'am. OK.



Miller: We 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.



Williams: What made you join the NAACP .



Miller: (Inaudible.) 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?"



Williams: Ms. Pink Taylor.



Miller: Ms. 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.



Williams: Who were some of the people in the NAACP at that time besides Ms. Pink Taylor, the people that left an impression upon you?



Miller: Well, 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.



Williams: Just keep on going. You're doing just fine.



Miller: But 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.



Williams: Let 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 on?



Miller: Definitely 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.



Williams: And who was leading or who were the sparks of the group at that time? How much Cain did you raise?



Miller: Oh, I was in Jackson as much as anybody else was there.



Williams: But your local chapter here, what were you doing here?



Miller: What 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?



Williams: Was that Jess Brown?



Miller: Jess Brown came over here, but the man that went to Ole Miss. You know who I'm talking about. Went to school there.



Williams: Well, I just got so much stuff going--. You said I should have more sense than that. (Laughter.)



Miller: Yeah, you should have, because you're young.



Williams: James Meredith, you're right.



Miller: Because, you see, I'm supposed to not know because I'm eighty-two years old.



Williams: Yes, ma'am. You got me.



Miller: But 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.



Williams: That's right. His wife was born here.



Miller: Um-hm, yeah.



Williams: And he met her, where?



Miller: She went to Alcorn.



Williams: Alcorn State, they met.



Miller: But 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.



Williams: What church did you meet at? Who was involved?



Miller: Now, 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, you know.



Williams: OK. Tell me what was happening with your people, the folks.



Miller: I'm talking about my people.



Williams: OK. Come on, tell me.



Miller: Because 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.



Williams: Was that the COFO office?



Miller: COFO 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.



Williams: OK. So, when I go out this door, the COFO office is right up the street here.



Miller: Um-hm. 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.



Williams: (Inaudible) or Dick Gregory or anybody like that?



Miller: Oh, 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.



Williams: Oh, 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.



Williams: OK. Small towns.



Miller: Um-hm, 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.).



Williams: Is it possible that I can just close that door so that the noise from the air conditioner wouldn't pick up on the tape?



Miller: Um-hm.



Williams: I'll get it, not you.



Miller: Wait now. Ain't no air in here unless I turn it on over in the other room there.



Williams: Oh, well, that's OK.



Miller: But you're still going to have it.



Williams: Yes, ma'am.



Miller: Because, it's hot outside.



Williams: Yes, ma'am. OK. Ain't no problem. Ain't no problem. I'm--.



Miller: But we could turn it on in the other little bedroom, maybe it'd shoot over. I don't know.



Williams: That's 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 everywhere.



Miller: Well, 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.



Williams: Roy Wilkins?



Miller: Roy 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.



Williams: OK. What was your position in the Vicksburg chapter?



Miller: OK. 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.



Williams: What kind of paper did you have and what would you put in there?



Miller: We had the Advocate in Jackson then. We had some kind of other little paper we started having here.



Williams: It wasn't the Citizens' Appeal, was it? Because that was the civil rights paper.



Miller: Yeah. It was here. Yeah. I believe we did have the Citizens' Appeal here. I do.



Williams: Now, who printed the paper? The NAACP printed up the paper?



Miller: No. 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.



Williams: Why were they afraid?



Miller: They 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.



Williams: Just come on. Skip on.



Miller: During 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?



Williams: Yes, ma'am.



Miller: Eddie 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.



Williams: What year was this? Do you remember?



Miller: Well, my husband was still alive, so my husband has been dead, my husband died in 1977.



Williams: OK. So, Ms. Davis was here, so was it before Medgar was killed, or after? This was after Medgar was killed?



Miller: Medgar was killed before then, wasn't he?



Williams: Yes.



Miller: My sister died. My mama died here in eighty-five. My sister died last year.



Williams: OK. Now, when you and Ms. Davis, the freedom rider--.



Miller: Oh, the freedom rider girl.



Williams: OK. And that was around what time?



Miller: That was before we went down to, that was before my husband died. My husband died in seventy-seven, so undoubtedly it had to be--.



Williams: The late sixties?



Miller: My husband died in seventy-seven. It had to be about, yeah, the late sixties. I'll say it like that.



Williams: Or somewhere in between.



Miller: I can't really think of when.



Williams: Yes, ma'am. Well, finish telling me what happened when they sat you--?



Miller: So, 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?



Williams: Waitress?



Miller: Waitress. 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 eyes.



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.



Williams: OK. So, as a result of that, did black folks start going there?



Miller: Um-hm. Wasn't long before a friend of mine and he was working at the school system.



Williams: What was his name?



Miller: Huh? And I said to him, I said, "Well--." He called me, he said, "Lee Willie--." He was the principal over there, too.



Williams: What was his name?



Miller: His name can't go in the paper, I don't think.



Williams: Oh, well, we won't worry about it.



Miller: OK. 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?



Williams: Is this Sturgis any kin to the guy who's running for sheriff in Hinds County?



Miller: No, 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 those children."



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!



Williams: Come on. Tell me about it. I want to hear all of this. Come on. I mean this is really good.



Miller: Dr. 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.



Williams: Is that the Summers Motel people?



Miller: No, this is Frank Summers.



Williams: From here in Vicksburg?



Miller: Um-hm. 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.



Williams: Let me kind of read this while you're talking to me.



Miller: Um-hm. 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.)



Williams: Fantastic. OK. So--.



Miller: And 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.



Williams: Let me ask you this, now. After y'all decided to get Dr. King here, what did you do, or who handled the arrangements?



Miller: Well, 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?



Williams: Um-hm.



Miller: Um-hm. 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 way.



Williams: Now, this was in Vicksburg?



Miller: Yeah, Vicksburg.



Williams: And that church is still in existence now?



Miller: Well, that's my church.



Williams: OK.



Miller: Um-hm. I've been there for years.



Williams: All right. Tell me more about it.



Miller: But 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.



Williams: Do 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.



Williams: No, he didn't get killed until sixty-eight. Am I correct?



Miller: He died then sometime after that. But I don't know where all my papers are.



Williams: Sixty-eight.



Miller: But anyway, he--.



Williams: Before 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.



Williams: OK. But your daughter [did.] Which daughter was that that met him?



Miller: Dolores.



Williams: Dolores.



Miller: Um-hm.



Williams: And where is Dolores, now? Is she still here?



Miller: Yeah, 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.



Williams: So, Dolores.



Miller: Um-hm. But she don't want her name in the paper about that.



Williams: OK. I understand. Now, demonstrations and marches. Now, what--?



Miller: Now, I marched for Medgar. For Medgar.



Williams: Oh, you was just marching everywhere.



Miller: Yeah. 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?



Williams: I'm fifty-four.



Miller: Um-hm, well, you wasn't no--.



Williams: I think I was in the Army then. I was an early, let's see, I was a teenager then. I was in the Army.



Miller: Um-hm, yeah. But you wouldn't know nothing about all that, at that time.



Williams: No, ma'am.



Miller: But 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?



Williams: People's?



Miller: No, the other one.



Williams: Collins?



Miller: Collins! 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.)



Williams: I agree. I absolutely agree with you. I'm just trying to--.



Miller: Anyway, 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.



Williams: Um-hm. Now. OK. How did y'all plan, after Medgar's assassination, did y'all plan who traveled to Jackson? Or who organized that?



Miller: Oh, 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.



Williams: Now, 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?



Miller: Oh, back in that time, I got them.



Williams: OK. What are some of the things that you did to get them registered? And what problems did you have?



Miller: In 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?



Williams: Yes, ma'am. I know it's up now.



Miller: Yeah, it's up. But you see, it won't bother me. Because, see, I told you about I had a niece, didn't I?



Williams: Yes, ma'am.



Miller: Um-hm. 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.



Williams: Um-hm. Now, let me get back to voter registration.



Miller: Um-hm. Oh, that's a rough thing.



Williams: OK. Now, what kinds of things did you do to get people to register to vote?



Miller: Now, 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.



Williams: Now, what kind of things were done to prevent people from joining the NAACP? Stories that you can tell me.



Miller: Now 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.



Williams: Did the Klan or white folks do anything to intimidate potential members? Did they publish the names?



Miller: They burned places down.



Williams: Um-hm. Did they publish anything, like in the newspapers or something, saying, "Well, hey, this person is in the NAACP."?



Miller: Somebody 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.)

 

 
 

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