An Oral History

With

Jasper Neely


Interviewer: Worth Long

 

Tougaloo College Archives


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

Funding for this project was provided in part by the Mississippi

Humanities Council, the National Endowment for the Humanities, and

the Mississippi Department of Archives and History.

2000

Biography


Mr. Jasper Neely was born April 27, 1938, in Grenada County, Mississippi. Through a football scholarship, Mr. Neely attended Mississippi Valley State University, and was given a trial with the St. Louis Cardinals Triple A Farm Team. Due to an injury, his sports career was cut short.

After he left Mississippi Valley State University, Mr. Neely was the first African-American to be hired at Liberty Cash Supermarket in Grenada, Mississippi. In 1968, he became NAACP president in Grenada. In the eighties, he ran for and was elected to the Grenada city council.

Taking part in the civil rights movement, Mr. Neely participated in protest marches as well as lawsuits against local merchants and industry of Grenada for discrimination in employee hiring and other policies.

 

Table of Contents


Childhood 1

Education 3

Delta conditions in early sixties 4

Working at Liberty Cash Supermarket 5

John F. Kennedy's assassination 5

Invited to be NAACP president, 1968 6

Lawsuit against Liberty Cash Supermarket 7

Election to city council in 1977 9

Martin Luther King 11

James Meredith 13

Ku Klux Klan 15

Marching in 1980 16

Changes resulting from the civil rights movement, pros and cons 17

NAACP Tour 21

AN ORAL HISTORY

with

MR. JASPER NEELY

 

This is an interview for the Civil Rights Documentation Project. The interview is with Mr. Jasper Neely and is taking place on February 19, 2000. The interviewer is Worth Long.

 

Long: Now I'm hearing something. We're ready. All right. We're going to start out here in Grenada, Mississippi, with you telling me your name and where and when you were born.



Neely: My name is Jasper Neely. I was born April 27, 1938, in Grenada County.



Long: OK. What was it like growing up in Grenada County?



Neely: Growing up in Grenada County was basically the same for all black people who were born into the South. Born into a situation that you believed wrong, that you were treated differently, but you don't find any way to criticize or to protest those changes. So pretty well as a young person, as I was, born into a situation, you learned to accept it and survive.



Long: Mm-hm. Did you observe that from your family? From your father and from the philosophy of your mother?



Neely: I learned that at a very early age, about right and wrong. I learned survivalship. I learned my father used to always tell me, said, "White folks love us when we laugh." So, he would laugh in their face, and he would cuss them out at home. So, I learned that early. I think that's the reason why I won't smile too much today, is because of that.



Long: Right. OK. How did you get involved in the movement and about how old were you then?



Neely: Oh, I was about twenty-five years old when I became really concerned about my surroundings and the issue that I felt strongly about, but I always wanted to join the NAACP from just what I knew of it, and from being able to obtain Jet magazines being slipped to the family in the South from relatives in Chicago. Jet magazine wasn't mailed like they are today. You couldn't purchase them in the store, and you couldn't let white folks know that you were reading them because you are finding out how blacks are being treated all over the country and some of the things that Jet was saying, white people in your particular area didn't want you to even know that. But I learned of those things through Jet. They was telling about what the NAACP was doing, and that type thing. And I remember them carrying the story of Oliver Charles Parker who was taken out of a jail down South, thrown into a river for allegedly whistling and hollering at a white woman. And I remember the Emmet Till situation stronger than I remember that, where the young man visited from Chicago in the summer in Mississippi over in Tallahatchee County. [He] was visiting, and he supposed to have hollered at a white woman. And some brothers pulled him away from his uncle's home one night, and brutalized him, and threw him into a river. And they found his body later on. And those men were tried, if you could call it that. But Jet magazine portrayed them as laughing, and the prosecutors and everybody was shaking their hands. The people on the jury were telling them that, "Don't worry. Everything's going to be all right." And they were found innocent. And then, later on, this woman recanted her story, during her late years, and informed that nothing happened. And that type thing, that really disturbed me.



Long: Yeah. Can you think of any incident in your childhood where you learned how the system works?



Neely: One particular incident stands out in my mind today as clearly if it happened, when it happened in 1957. I was a sophomore in high school at that time, very active in football. Had some very good football teams under Coach Nathaniel Beauclair[?]. And at that time, one of my high school teachers was Mrs. Allen who just retired as a professor from Jackson State University.



Long: And she was married to who?



Neely: Willie T. Allen, former city councilman, who I served on the Grenada city council with for numerous years, and we're still friends and associates. But, we were scheduled to play our major opponents of the year, which was Kosciusko Bobcats[?] and our name were the Grenada High School Wildcats. And ever who usually won that game each year was going to be the conference champion. So, this was a big draw-in in north Mississippi. We had people from everywhere. Even though they had to walk here, they was here. And our game was scheduled to get under way that Friday afternoon at two o'clock. At that time, it was Bulldog Stadium, and we didn't have dressing rooms.



Long: Uh-huh. Go ahead.



Neely: We didn't have dressing rooms at the time to change clothes, so we naturally would use the bathroom. So, we were changing clothes, and when we came out of the boys' rest room, our high school principal [who] was (inaudible) Mrs. Carrie Dawson[?], were addressing the young men who were available and the coach, telling them that the game that was scheduled that afternoon at two o'clock had to be canceled. We couldn't use the football field, and that Mr. Beauclair had to call Charleston (that was Mr. Beauclair's former hometown) to see if he could use the football stadium for us to play. So, that means we would have to travel thirty-two miles to play a game with no fans. He called and the game was played, but the whole idea that we had to cancel our football game because the Grenada High School white band wanted to suddenly practice that afternoon when they had over fifteen hundred yards behind the school to practice. And that was something that I asked my principal. I said, "Mrs. Dawson, isn't there something you could do?"



And she said, "No." Said, "There's nothing I can do, Jasper."



And Mrs. Allen who was my English teacher called me aside, later on, to inform me. She said, "Jasper," said, "I'm not saying you're wrong, and I'm not going to say that you're right." She said, "But your thoughts are a little ahead of your time." But said, "I want you to always remember, it's good to stand up for your rights, but I just think you're ahead of your time." And I always remembered that, but it always stuck in me; I hoped that I would never have to say something about our right or say that I'm wrong if I feel something is right.



Long: Right. So, tell me about your education. Did you actually feel that you got a good education where you went to school?



Neely: When you say an education, I don't know whether you mean from a white standpoint of view, or you mean speaking from a black standpoint of view. If you say, "Did you get an education from a black school back in fifty-nine?" Compared to what you got today, I would say that I got one of the best educations that I could have received. I don't think that I could receive the education today that I received in 1959 because I was taught more than what was in the classroom book. I was taught about how to be a man, how to be a woman. I was taught that you are black, but you don't have to be submissive. And that type thing. I was taught survivalship. So, I would say that I received a good education. I attended Mississippi Valley State University on a football scholarship. A couple of years later, I was given a trial with the St. Louis Cardinals Triple A Farm Team in (inaudible), Texas as a pitcher, and I received some good opportunities. I got hurt and some of it was cut short, but it's not anything that I had to apologize for, because a lot of people didn't get that far.



Long: Yeah. What years were you at Alcorn?



Neely: No, I went to Valley. I didn't go to Alcorn.



Long: I mean, what years?



Neely: That was in fifty-nine, sixty.



Long: Yeah, I kind of remember those years. At that time, some of the civil rights was going on, getting ready to develop in the Delta. What were people thinking during those particular times? Tell me about your own thinking. What were the conditions?



Neely: The conditions were terrible. The conditions that were there, it needed addressing. I think it just was a matter of time for some leadership from somewhere to make it grow and then local leadership would take over. See, you had a situation in the South and anywhere else, where local black leadership was almost impossible because then, you had a situation where you didn't have blacks, really in an ownership where they could, say, help another black. If he stepped out there and stuck his neck out for a particular cause, financially, he was going to get slaughtered. You always think about physical, but you always think about economics. Physical is something we've always dealt with, and we always accepted that possibility. But we've always been willing to take that chance. But we always think about, when we've got a family, we've got children, we've got a wife, we think about their survival. I can stand the hurt and the pain, but I cannot stand the hurt or the pain of my family, to some degree. I've always talked to them about that, as I'm being your wife, or I'm being your father, you can always expect some negative things, sometime. And I want you to be aware of that. I want you to expect that there are going to be some good times, and there are going to be some hard times. And you're going to have to be a man or a child enough to accept the good times and the bad times.



Long: Right. And would you say that you experienced mostly good times or bad times?



Neely: I've experienced both. I've experienced some good times, and I've experienced some bad times. And I guess I was prepared for it because I recognized that. I've seen what happened to other individuals. And I didn't ever expect that I was going to be an exception. I didn't expect to take over some type of leadership role and not expect to be criticized. I'm going to have my supporters, and I'm going to have my enemies. And sometimes it's good to have enemies because it keeps you on your toes. And all the time that you think you've got your friends around you, you must be aware that everybody who attends a meeting is not always your friend. That it's someone there for another cause. So, I tried to be intelligent enough to be aware of those situations and tried to adjust (inaudible) they come. But in relating to my situation, I have been affected by good and bad situations. And I'll give you a little history of that. When I became--. I was asked to be the president of the NAACP in 1979, and I had never had any inkling to be in a leadership role or anything. I supported the NAACP because I felt it was my obligation, and it was helping other people. But I never felt like going out there, talking about somebody, even though--. And when I left Valley, I was hired by a store here, and I was the first black hired there.



Long: Mm-hm. Where was that?



Neely: Liberty Cash.



Long: And what were you doing there?



Neely: I was a stock manager. And, I couldn't even carry out groceries. You can't carry out a sack of groceries to a white woman's car. Do you believe that? I worked in the store. Two years later. But anyway, I was working there when Dr. King came in here in sixty-six and different things. And I attended meetings. I donated money. My wife prepared food and carried to them, and all of those things, but I just never felt about no leadership role. Never even (inaudible). I had been an individual who always would speak my mind. And I was always an individual, I was going to take care of my family, and that type thing. And I would tell the man where I worked what I thought. I gave him my opinion. And that's the way I felt. But I felt very seriously about things when Dr. King was killed and that type thing, and there's only probably three times in my life when a death affected me more than it did when my mother and father died, and that was when Kennedy was assassinated in November of sixty-three and when Dr. King was killed in sixty-eight, and then his brother was killed in sixty-eight. And those two deaths, I don't think there will ever be where I couldn't tell you what I was doing on those days, like in 1963. You know. Where I was working at Liberty Cash, and I was getting off work at 12:30, and I always had my radio on in the car on WDIE, where it picks it up as soon as I turned it on. And that flash came over the radio, and I was on my way to the restaurant, but instead of going to the restaurant, I went home. So, I could catch it on TV. And that's what was on all that day.



And, I'll never forget, when I walked in the store that afternoon, when I returned. I was off for lunch from 12:30 to 1:30, and when I walked in the store, returning, there were mostly whites in there that day, and you would have thought it was a football game. People were jumping up, and I couldn't believe it. People that I said I thought I knew were jumping up shouting talking about, "We got him. We got him." And most of the people that knew me probably knew how I felt, and they saw me and then they wouldn't say anything around me about it, but as soon as they got somewhere else, I'm sure they talked about it. And for some reason, the day that they had Kennedy's funeral, the store manager asked me did I want to take the day off.



And I told him, "Yes, sir. I do want to take the day off." And he let me off. And the same thing when Dr. King got killed. He asked me that because he knew how I felt that day, because there wouldn't nobody say anything around me that day because I wanted some--. For some reason, and I guess it was God's plan for them not to say anything to me because I was full, and I needed to let it out. But I didn't have anywhere to let it out when nobody wasn't saying anything to me. But anyway, at--.



Long: They were cheering like they were at a football game because who had been killed?



Neely: Because the president had been killed.



Long: Isn't that amazing?



Neely: They were saying, "We got him. We got him." And that type thing. So, I would say that I recognized from that standpoint of view, and at that time and in sixty-eight, when the community board approached me about being president, I told them I would give it quite a consideration. I would discuss it with my wife and decide about it. And I discussed it with her, and she said, "Well, you know the possible consequence."



I said, "Yeah."



She said, "You know the financial consequence."



I said, "Yes." I said, "But will you support me?"



She said, "Well, you know, I'm going to support you."



I said, "Well, if the community feels that I can do some good," and I said, "I don't know why they suddenly picked me or whatever." I said, "I would like to give it a try." And I said, "I'm willing to take the sacrifice." So, I accepted the presidency of the organization, and the first thing that I did to try to bring about some change (laughter), I wrote a letter to the editor asking all businesses in Grenada County--I didn't say hire, now--I said, "Take consideration to begin to hire and promote blacks on the same basis you hire whites." And Lord have mercy, it was like I was throwing a bomb, or if I told them I was going to take over the bank. They had a meeting on me at the First Baptist Church with the manager, and they wanted them to give me a chance to give up the presidency of the organization. And they were going to have to--. For them to get rid of me. So, a manager came to me and asked me would I give up the organization.



And I told him, "No, sir. I would not." So, he asked me would I take a vacation. I'd never been able to take a vacation in January. That's the biggest--. Plus I had never been able to take all my vacation, two weeks, at one time. I had to take a week here and a week in June, July, whatever.



But he said, "Will you take two weeks in January?"



I said, "Yes, sir. I sure will." So, I went and taken the two weeks in January. So, we [were] always thinking about what happened. I discussed it with the lawyers and everything.



They say, "Probably going to fire you."



I said, "Yeah."



Said, "Well, you go back, just like you supposed to be going back, after two weeks, because they didn't tell you, you're fired. They say you're on vacation." So, after two weeks, I--."



(The interview is interrupted by a ringing telephone. A portion of the interview regarding scheduling has been omitted from the manuscript.)



Long: We were talking about the first thing you did when you were NAACP president and how you got sent on vacation, and what your lawyer suggested to you. All right. Go ahead.



Neely: The lawyers advised me to return to work to see if I was going to resume employment. So, I returned to work that Monday and my card was moved out of the time clock situation, so I asked Mr.(inaudible) was my card down in there. The manager of the store.



So, he said, "No, Jasper. The owner decided to let you go."



I said, "Would you mind telling me what I'm being fired for?"



"No. We just can't use you anymore."



I said, "Well, OK. Thank you." As I walked out of the door--. The lawyers and I, we had already met that weekend. We had basically prepared a lawsuit already, that weekend. And they had delivered it to Oxford and filed suit against Liberty Cash Supermarket. That was the first lawsuit--.



Long: And that's called Liberty?



Neely: Liberty Cash Supermarket.



Long: Cash.



Neely: Number ninety-nine. Out of Memphis. And I filed a lawsuit against the store. And it taken a year and a half for it to go through the mill, but we settled the lawsuit out of court because they didn't have anything. My work records and the things that the lawyers subpoenaed tore them up, because as far as they say I was missing work and didn't come to work on time. I used to punch in thirty minutes [early]. That's just my--. I feel better going to work early. So, instead of punching in at seven o'clock, I would punch in thirty minutes early and wasn't getting paid for it. So, they made them pay me for that, all that time. And, plus, they had to do this affirmative action. They had to hire blacks in things that blacks had never been in before in this town. And that's when blacks started getting jobs at other places (inaudible) then. In fact, they had to hire clerks. They had to hire assistant store managers. They had to hire [an] assistant butcher. The whole works. And what Liberty had to do, the other store voluntarily done it, you know. So, that was some of the positive things. I didn't go back to work at that time. And this was the amazing thing about it. The people in the community decided at a meeting we had one Sunday afternoon, they said--. At that time, I wasn't doing any work. I had been doing, just doing (inaudible). And they said, "What we want you to do. We want you to be able." Well, I just had bought the house that I'm living in, now. Fortunately, I'm through paying for it. All of this was happening at a time when my first child was born. I had just bought a new house and just moved into it.



So, that's what the white folks had thought they were going to do. Say, "We're going to put this clamp on this nigger. We're going to really show them." And so the community set up an (inaudible), a form for me.



They asked me how much money was I making at Liberty. I told them. And they said, "And your insurance is going to be gone." They said, "The community is going to pay you as much as you was working at Liberty Cash. And we don't want you to do nothing but wear your clean clothes like you do, now." And for some reason, I used to wear a tie at Liberty, and didn't have to. It was just the way I wanted to dress. And what the store did, as a result of that, they made employees wear a tie and dress clothes, so, the community told me they didn't want me to do it. Said, "We want you to keep doing what you're doing. We want you to hold your head up. Drive your new car. You've got a new car. Drive your new car." And that type thing. My wife was working at one of the largest plants here, too, called Penny-Co[?]. So, what they decided they were going to do, the only way to get after her, they were going to get after her when my second child was born. So, she went on maternity leave in February of that next year. So, what they did, they fired her and at that time, nobody had ever dealt with a sex discrimination suit in dealing with maternity leave. So, they said they didn't have another job. So, they couldn't bring her back on. So Victor Mature[?] handled that for me over in Greenville. So, he filed the lawsuit. Before we could get into court, they brought her back on board, but what they had to do, they had to clean up the mess they had messed up with all them other women. So, they had to go back over a period of years, and all the people that they had let go, they had to bring them back on board. People they had fired under maternity (inaudible). They had to do that. Then, they had to set up a maternity leave policy. So, those were the things I'm proud that we was able to do. And then all the other companies sort of got in line. I became politically active, and then Willie T. ran for city council. At that time people was afraid to even run for the office.



Long: That's Willie T.?



Neely: Willie T.



Long: His last name was?



Neely: Allen. So, the first man that ran for council was Mr. T.M. Bradford[?]. He was a mortician here. Willie T. went to him and convinced him to run. And unfortunately, within a year, he passed. He was an elderly man, but he had a lot of grit. We couldn't get anybody to run, so, Willie T. decided he would run in his place, and he was a schoolteacher, too. Now, (inaudible), then. So, he ran, and he served on the city council until he went with the governor's office in 1980. So, then, another position in the community was (inaudible), but if a black would run for it. So, we tried to get a black to run for it and wouldn't nobody run. So, then, here the community come again, "Jasper, won't nobody run. Will you run?"



I said, "I don't really want to be a councilman."



They said, "No, well, I know you don't want to be one, but" said, "we've got to get somebody in the position (inaudible) ." Said, "We want you to run."



I said, "OK. I'll run." So, I ran and won.



Long: What kind of population, at that time, did black people comprise?



Neely: Inside the city limits of Grenada--.



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



Neely: One thing, we wasn't registered, reason why we wasn't winning. So, what we did. We did registration. And what we did: registration in both those wards to get the people registered, because, see, we had white people was winning, that didn't even have an opponent. They didn't even come into the black community and do anything, even though the majority of people in that ward were black folks, they didn't even recruit no black folks. Or talk to you about anything. And that's why I ran, when I ran. But I beat the opponent in my ward who had been on the city council three terms. And I beat him with 60 percent of the vote.



Long: Uh-huh. So, what years were those, now?



Neely: I ran in seventy-seven.



Long: Uh-huh. And you ran for the?



Neely: City council.



Long: City council. Now, so, were black people more than 20 percent of the population in Grenada?



Neely: We were pretty well the same as we are now, about 40 percent.



Long: Forty percent. And then the county?



Neely: That's about the way it is in the county.



Long: So, 40 percent, and didn't have representation?



Neely: We didn't have representation, because we wasn't registered and wasn't trying to get it.



Long: Right.



Neely: See. We wasn't political-minded activists. Now, we got a majority on the city council, now. And now, we've got two of the five supervisor positions.



Long: Right. Mm-hm. Tell me about--. You're talking about apathy and fear. Tell me about the conditions that made that happen early on. Why were black people intimidated during that particular time? Can you give me some--?



Neely: Yes. I think black people was intimidated simply because they didn't feel that they had no avenue to turn to if they would speak out or seek justice. You take back there in sixty, just in sixty, you almost looking at a condition of 1940. The same thing. Policemen would whip you across the head for nothing, stop you for coming through Grenada because your car tag is from Chicago. All those things. You put in jail because of--. Lock you up. We had a judge here named Judge Marshall Perry, circuit court judge. He sentenced you to prison. It wasn't no doubt that you was going to be sentenced, you just didn't know how much. We had a lawyer here named John Britain[?], wore a beard just like you. Out of Oxford. John was a tough lawyer. He went before Marshall Perry. Marshall Perry asked him where was his license. "I want to know, boy, where your license is. You talk ugly, now, you'll be fined for contempt of court. I'll send you to Parchman." That's the type of mentality we had in this town. If you were walking down the street or down on the sidewalk, and you met two white women, you knew what to do. You got off the sidewalk. If you was in a store buying groceries, and you was next, if that clerk told you to, "Stand back, boy. It's some white women going to be waited on," [then] you stood back. And you was called, "Boy." They was nice when they called you, "Boy." You (inaudible). You were supposed to be called, "Nigger."



Long: And that was up until what time?



Neely: That was in the seventies. We're looking at the seventies. And during the seventies, wasn't too much (inaudible.) You were just breaking it in the seventies. Things began to change a little bit more as soon as it was in the eighties, but during the period of the seventies, in the South, you're not looking at too much change. Too many differences.



Long: Yeah. Well, how was Dr. King when he came through? Would you describe the period of the Meredith march and how you observed that and the leadership of that period, and what they had to face?



Neely: When word reached the--. And I assume it was this way all over the South, whenever the report that Dr. King was coming to town or SCLC was going to be here or what, I don't know if you ever read a book or material or something about when they was talking about the coming of Jesus. When people heard that Dr. King was coming through Grenada; we didn't know he was going to actually make appearances here. We thought the march was just going to come through, and whatever. The wagon train. But when we learned that he was going to come through here and that he was going to maybe, possibly make some stops or whatever, we didn't know that SCLC was going to set up headquarters here. It was almost like a dream. You didn't believe it, but people was like it was a new day coming. People was on the outside, shouting, "Dr. King is coming. Dr. King is coming." And that type stuff. And it just lifted something off the people's shoulders that had been there for years. People found strength to do some things that they didn't feel like they'd ever had. I never would have believed that you would see people that I knew who were working in the kitchens of white folks, getting in a march in broad daylight and marching downtown in a line of about a thousand people, during broad daylight, and whites on one side and blacks on the other side. You know that every white person in the thing is taking down names of everybody in that line. And even though you see black people fired from jobs that they had held for fifteen or twenty years and had worked for white folks for twenty-five or thirty years, came back and they still got in that line the next day even though they didn't have a job, the next day. And even though they knew that they was going to get fired, didn't know where their next bread was going to come from, they still was in that line. They still was in that line. People on canes was marching. It was something to see.



Long: Yeah. And this was not just when Dr. King came in support of the Meredith march. What years are we talking about?



Neely: Oh, Dr. King came in here in sixty-six. That's when it started, when he came through here in sixty-six. I think that's when the movement--. I would say that was the starting in the movement in the South, and it was in Grenada County and almost everywhere else. Was when he came in here, because he came in here, and during that time they set up headquarters at Bellflower Baptist Church on Pearl and Water Street. That's where they worked out of it. And the workers was in here for about a year and a half, and that's when they left out of here when the community recognized and said, "Now, Dr. King and them came in here. Now, they can't stand here and stay in here and do something for you. It's time for local people to do their part." So, that's when he came, and the fact that Dr. King was in here about a week or a week and a half before he was assassinated. He made two stops here. When I say, "stops," he spoke here twice. At First New Hope Church, that I belonged to on Bear[?] Street, and he stayed in the home of Billy McCain's[?] mother, Ms. Jessie McCain, over on Telegraph.



Long: Right. So, who else was with him at that time?



Neely: Just everybody that I knew of that was surrounding him through. Jesse was a youngster.



Long: This is Jesse?



Neely: Jackson. Jesse Jackson was a youngster. Cotton Reeder[?] was in here. He was one of the field workers. He did the most with the marching. And then Hosea was with him.



Long: And his name is what?



Neely: Hosea Williams[?]. And R.B. Cotton Reeder, and I'm trying to think of this other guy.



Long: Was it Leon?



Neely: Leon Hall was with them, then. And there was another guy I can't think of. He got killed somewhere. It wasn't a racial-related thing, but he got killed somewhere in his home town after he left here. He wore overalls. I can't think of him. Big guy. But anyway, those people--.



Long: [Was that] Lester?



Neely: Lester. I believe that's who it was.



Long: Yeah, I remember him.



Neely: But all those people with them. And like I said, all those people here, you know, and Dr. King considered himself a young man at that time. Everybody that was around him that was a young man, then, you know, were young people.



Long: Right. When you saw him, what did you think? When you actually saw Dr. King?



Neely: I didn't believe it. It was, you see him and don't believe it. You know, you watch the news and maybe you see him on, and see how people are trying to touch him, and here you are seeing him in a town of this size. And at that time, you say, "Well, I hope he'll hurry up and get out of here." Because you worried about something, you know, like some kook.



Long: Yeah. Now, it's my understanding that James Meredith came. Do you remember the history of that?



Neely: Yeah.



Long: Tell me about what happened when he started his march against fear.



Neely: James Meredith who entered Ole Miss in sixty-one. I can remember that real well because I went to Vicksburg on some business that Sunday before he went to Ole Miss that Monday, and I came back around through the Delta that night. And it was night when I left out of Vicksburg. And on the way back out, you could meet cars and different things had signs and flags on them, waving: "Kill that nigger." And going through these little, small towns I was coming out of, like (inaudible) City. And what's that little, old town near Vicksburg, coming out from over in there? But anyway, all those little towns coming out of Vicksburg, in every square you passed through, they had a dummy hung up by the neck, and it had a sign out: "Meredith." And that type thing. So, as Meredith went through that situation, for some reason, he organized the march, the march through fear. And started at the boundary of Tennessee and Mississippi, coming down [Highway] 51. And down [Highway] 51, someone taken a shot at him.



Long: Yeah. Mm-hm. OK. And when he was hospitalized, who came to his rescue?



Neely: I cannot recall who was the (inaudible) that saved him or carried him in. I can't recall.



Long: Yeah. I was just trying to figure: Who took up the march?



Neely: I'm not sure if the march resumed at that time.



Long: Oh, OK. That's right, because he was hospitalized.



Neely: He was hospitalized. I can't recall. If I remember correctly, I do not think the march continued, because he was supposed to come through Grenada, and he got shot before he got to Grenada.



Long: That's right. Uh-huh. OK. Mr. Allen had suggested that Dr. King and people from CORE and SNCC went on, took up part of the march, and went on to Jackson, Mississippi.



Neely: They may have.



Long: But when they got through here, things were so hard, they came back. And, so, the whole, what we're talking about, probably is about the period when Dr. King came back from Jackson to settle in and to have his organization do something here in Grenada. And so, did they have mass meetings? Or what?



Neely: Oh, yeah. They had mass meetings. You were thinking about, now, how difficult it would be to just get a mass meeting, now, for one day a week, on a Saturday or Sunday. Then, you had a mass meeting every night. And you couldn't get in the church. You had a march every night. And you see the young people and the old people, everybody is out there, and you look at now, people don't even know anything about what is a protest march. Or sacrifice. Kids now are looking at some money. And people then wasn't thinking about no money. Be out there passing out leaflets and in the march; ain't asking for no money. Now, if you ask kids to pass out some material for anything, they want to know how much an hour you're going to pay them.



Long: Right. Mm-hm. So, finally, I kind of wanted to get an understanding of what that time was like when people were trying to organize. And where was it? Folks say that Hosea and some of the other people were organizing right in the middle of town. And I just wanted to--.



Neely: No, I can't recall where (inaudible). You had your speeches made in the middle of town.



Long: I see.



Neely: To draw attention, because mostly all of the marches after five o'clock, I was there. I was at work during the day until sixty-nine, and I attended all the meetings, but as far as I know and can recall, your strategy meetings was held at Bellflower Church. Everything was held under the roof of Bellflower Church. Your open sessions and everything was held to dramatize and to show white folks you wasn't scared and just to talk about them because they don't like it. You were showing them that, well, to be able to do that we had to go to court to get a judge to grant us permission to walk up and down the street. Because they stopped it. See, at first you couldn't do it. You couldn't do it at first. You was arrested.



Long: You mean the local police?



Neely: Yes, you was arrested. You were arrested for local--. We got a law that's still on the books right now. We have where there's a law where we went to court that we can march anytime we get ready. We can do it right now. A lot of towns don't have it. We do not have to get permission. What we do: the only thing we have to do is notify the police that at one o'clock, approximately, not how many, approximately one hundred folks from the NAACP office will march downtown, and what direction are we going, and police cars are going to be ready to lead us. We don't have to get out in the streets by ourselves. They're going to lead us to where we're going until we disband. That's on the books right now.



Long: So, what if the Klan or somebody wanted to march at the same time?



Neely: You'd have to grant them the march.



Long: Uh-huh. Has that ever happened here?



Neely: That hasn't happened here. They've come out and demonstrated, but they haven't asked to march. But what they do, they come out and demonstrate. But it seems kind of a comical situation. This is lately. This was, I believe this happened back around 1980, because I think we had just had a boycott against a store here and they was just about to close. And they was coming in here to support the store, and they--.



Long: This is the Klan?



Neely: The Klan. And they were passing out materials down at each one of the big traffic stops, down at [Highway] 51 and 8. And another one. And they also was going to go to a park in the black community and burn one of their signs that night. And I said, "Them folks are crazy if they think they're going to [burn] a flag with these niggers on Union Street."



Long: They're going to burn a cross?



Neely: Going to burn a cross in the black community where these niggers on Union Street, the police don't go down there, too much. I ain't sending nothing. They said, "Jasper, what you going to do?"



I said, "We ain't going to do nothing." I said, "Because them niggers they're going to find out about on Union Street, and they're going to go down there and whip all them Klansmen. The police are going to have to rescue them." And sure enough, they did. They went down there, and them niggers jumped on them right down there, and then the white folks (inaudible) police had to go down there and rescue them. Got the Klan. I told them, "Y'all better keep your asses away from down here with these niggers." (Laughter.)



Long: And this was nineteen what?



Neely: About 1980.



Long: Right. They made a tactical mistake, I suppose.



Neely: Yes, sir, going to go down there at night and burn a flag! (Laughter.) And the same day, we found out they was going to be a flag, so we decided we would march that Saturday. So we did. And, man, we marched that Saturday, and I don't know how the people off the highway found out about it. I guess they was on these radios monitoring. And, man, there was so many black folks off the highway came into Grenada and joined the march; I bet you we had three or four thousand people marching. Because they had heard [about] the Klan, and man, folks came into town off the trucks and off the (inaudible) and everybody came in. And when different ones came in, and I don't know what. Some group came in here. A black group came in here that day. And they came and they told me, said, "Y'all go ahead and march." Said, "Ain't nobody going to do nothing." I ain't never seen no doings like that. That was in 1980, when them niggers had (inaudible).



Long: So, you're talking about the Deacons for Defense?



Neely: I don't know what they had! They had guns, but I didn't even know them. And they just came in here and told us, "Y'all go on and march." Said, "We'll take care of that other business." And then they rode, and had a truck between every hundred marchers, or 150 marchers. They was in trucks. And had a nigger driving the truck and two or three of them on the back.



Long: Now, you didn't see any guns, did you?



Neely: Didn't see any guns? You could see them if you wanted to see them.



Long: Uh-huh. So, they were armed?



Neely: Yeah, they was armed. They sure was armed. Because that was a group out of Tupelo that was always armed. You could see them. There was this group that this black guy used to be over; he got killed in a car wreck out at Tupelo.



Long: Uh-huh. He worked for the legal--?



Neely: Yeah. Legal Defense. (Inaudible) legal services.



Long: Right.



Neely: At that time Joe Louis[?] out of Lexington was involved with them.



Long: Uh-huh. So, things from the time that Meredith had a march and Dr. King got involved, things just turned over. They just changed completely.



Neely: Mm-hm.



Long: So, in employment? What areas did you see the most change?



Neely: Employment. The economic thing changed and it helped, but I don't know if that was a plan, or what. Was it a way to get black people away from being organized? See, what you did, what happened that way: when the jobs became available, when they started to hire young black people off the streets into these restaurants and they're making more money than they ever made in their life, then they get away from those things. The kids at the school now are not like--. You couldn't get a kid, now, at most of these schools here to join a protest because of this or that. "I got to think about my job, man." You know.



Long: Yes. But that is an advance, isn't it?



Neely: Yeah.



Long: Is what you're describing a kind of pacification system that you were just questioning? Where people provide a job to keep you out of the streets?



Neely: Sure they do that. You can look at it from two points of view. Years ago, if you didn't have a job, you're, "So, what? I'm going down and join the march. I ain't got nothing else to do." So, you could get two hundred, three hundred people any day. Because you had people sitting on the porch, wasn't doing anything. So, now they done taken the Welfare system away. You got to do some community work if you want to draw that, and most anybody, you know, is doing a job, now, because with the economy what it is, you don't have people sitting loose who can come do that. People have done bought a house; people have got a car that didn't have one years ago. They didn't want to lose that car and that house. They're going to think about that job. So, you cannot get them to come forth on something. Most everyone will tell you, "Look, man, I've got a family. I've got a job."



Long: Yeah, but when you were confronted with the same thing, what did you do?



Neely: I didn't feel that way. What I'm saying, I didn't feel that way. I have never felt that I was going to let a job stop me from being a man, or speaking out. I just didn't believe that way. And I have, right today, my son is paying for that. Now, he's twenty-eight, now, but now, he's a person that's sort of, he's outspoken. Now, he never has been a party in the civil rights movement. He's been a member of other organizations, but, now, he has never wanted to be out front, or anything. Now, after he graduated from high school, he didn't want to go to college. All he wanted to do was get him a pretty good job. So, I (inaudible) helped him get a pretty good job, but then, after he got to be twenty-one, twenty-two, I think maybe some of the law enforcement officers or what, maybe felt, that he may eventually decide he wants to do something else, so little things that he would do would get special attention from law enforcement officers. They would always pick him up. If he played loud music on his radio in his car, they were going to pick him up or give him a ticket, all for something that another person wouldn't get a ticket for. So, I had tried to tell him, I said, "Jeff, you need to watch it, son." I say, "It may not should be that way, but it's that way." I said, "You're going to always receive special attention from law enforcement people, or from the community in (inaudible) because you're mine. If you get away with something, and they don't do something, they're going to say you're doing it because you're Jasper Neely's son. And if you do something--. And if you're not doing anything, you've got to be always doing something positive. You can't do things like the other kids do things. You've got to do it different." Now, it was a little different for my daughter, because she's a woman. They don't look at women to lead anything, so, they tolerate more from her than they will from the boy. But they're going to look at that boy.



Long: Mm-hm. Yeah. You think he would have become--?



Neely: No, I don't think so. It has never been in Jeff to be a party to anything.



Long: Right.



Neely: He never wanted to.



Long: Tell me about that, since you're talking about leadership. When people groom somebody, and then pass on the leadership--. Mr. Allen said that he thought you had the spark of what the community needed in terms of leadership. How does that happen?



Neely: You know that's something that I really don't think you can maybe say, "I'm going to be a leader." A person designates himself to be a leader. He can't do that. I think that has to come from a community concept, and I think you must have some qualities or some things, that people think you have to be in a leadership role. It don't mean that you have to be a leader of this or a leader of that. It means a leader, and I think that maybe, I think I always would say what I felt was right. And I always carried myself in a pretty good position where I thought people respected me or respected my family, and that type thing. And I think that people, most everybody in the community knew me from my football days, and I think that had a lot to do with it. And I think from a leadership standpoint, I think from being the quarterback on the football team, I think that had more to do with it from a leadership point of view, than anything ever I can think of was the cause of it. Because of my football days.



Long: And Mr. Allen had been a quarterback before you.



Neely: Yes, that's right. He had been a quarterback before me.



Long: Mm-hm. Is there anybody that you will probably pass on that leadership to? What you have learned. Is there somebody that you may be grooming or observing? How will the mantle pass on, that passed from Mr. Allen to you? How will that pass forward?



Neely: Well, it's really difficult to say. Willie T. and my relationship became close in a strange manner. Now, I did not know Willie T. when I knew his wife because he was still going to school at Jackson State, and she was a little ahead of him, and that type thing. And he came back from the Army, and then went to Jackson State and finished. So, when I was in high school, he became a principal at an elementary school, Rebecca Reed[?], which is about fifteen miles from here.



Long: What is that community called?



Neely: Holcomb. And he was officiating football games on the side, at that time. And as I said, we had some good football teams, and he was one of the most strict referees I thought was in the country. And I felt because he was Mrs. Allen's husband, he should lean toward us. And we had a halfback named Jesse Tarver[?]. I never will forget him. He's on that picture up there; that high school picture. And we called him Tank Tarver; he was number eighty-eight. And I had never seen anyone hit him at the line of scrimmage and take him back. If you hit him, he'd fall forward. So, anytime you wanted two or three yards in a crucial game, you called twenty-four.



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



Neely: Eighty-eight and let him run. And all of us in the backfield could run. Everything we had could carry the ball, and it wasn't anything for us to score fifty points in a football game. And one night we were playing someone. Every time Jesse would make a run fifteen or twenty yards. Toot. Whistle come back. Every time (inaudible) would make a twenty-five, thirty run, toot, whistle came back. Every time I would run, whether I would make a fifteen or twenty, whatever, throw a long pass, toot, the whistle come back. And I couldn't wait to talk to Mrs. Allen the next day. I told her she had the worst husband in the world. I said, "Mrs. Allen, you're going to have to do something about your husband." I said, "We can't run a play without him calling a touchdown. Calling and penalizing us." And as a result of that fact, that's when me and him started.



He came to me one day, and he said, "Jasper."



I said, "Yes, sir."



He said, "Don't you know the reason why I penalize y'all so much?"



I said, "Why?"



He said, "Because y'all are scoring so many points." He said, "What if I didn't ever blow the whistle and bring back a play every time y'all run?" Say, "Y'all would run up a hundred points." He said, "I'm doing you a favor." He said, "I'm penalizing y'all because y'all are good." Now, he was hitting me here, but I liked him from then on. When he'd throw down the flag, I'd pick the flag and give to him, from then on. You know. But, man, (laughter) I thought he was the worst guy in the world, throwing down flags. And from then on, we got to be buddies. All through when he was a principal over there and that type thing. He lived in the same neighborhood I lived in, and that type thing. So, just from that on up, we just learned to be friends. And as we went through the years, and now, we're advanced age, we're still friends, hobbling around together. And that type thing.



Long: Tell me about the museum that y'all are developing.



Neely: Well, you'd have to tell him more about that than Willie T., because that's basically his project. And that type thing. But that had been a dream of his, and it's something he thought about years ago, because, don't he wouldn't have all that stuff in his house and things like that, but that was his ambition, was to one day have a museum. And this building fell into it. This used to be legal services office building, here. I was on the legal services board of directors and I learned that they was going to open some additional offices in North Mississippi, and I went to the board with the proposal to open an office. They said, "Yes." But at that time they didn't have a building available that a black person owned for them to open up. So, we didn't open up right then. We wanted to make sure the black business opened. I went to Willie T. with a proposal.



I said, "Willie T., we need a building that a black person owns to rent." I said, "I feel like we can probably get it if there's enough rent to pay for the building and make some on the side." Said, "We need a building." So, we learned that this building was up for sale. So, Willie T. went and made arrangements with the bank, and we bought that. And we went to Jesse Pennant[?]. He was the director of legal services in Oxford at the time. We went to him with the proposal. We figured out how many square feet was in here and how much money it would take to pay the loan off and make him a little money. So, that's what he did; bought the building.



Long: And this provided legal services and what else?



Neely: Well, at that time, it was only legal services, until they had the cutback and had to cut the office out in eighty-nine. And then it opened back up, then. Well, then I left legal services in ninety-three. I opened up [a] consulting office out of here. So, the community needed a place, and I said I wasn't going to let it go down. And that type stuff, so, I opened it up and kept it open, like this (inaudible). And then Willie T. said, "You know what? Since it's open," say, "I think I'm going to just keep it open with no (inaudible). I want to go on and start on my museum." So, that's what he did.



Long: OK. Now, we're closing, but what have you learned from the experiences that you've had through the years in terms of social change? Tell me, is there a lesson in this? If so, what--?



Neely: A lesson that I've learned dealt with survivalship. But I guess that the people that I've met over the years have been something that you can't buy. It's an experience that always will be with you. Different people that I've met over the years, like John Conyers[?] up there. We went to his office. In fact, we was in his office last summer. We got a tour that the kids go through the branch, called the NAACP Tour. This was formed out of the branch in 1995, where we raised funds for a tour for the kids. We carry forty kids and ten chaperones to a major city every summer. Last year, we went to Detroit. This year we're going to St. Louis, and we raise the money locally. We don't see no grant or that type thing. We raise the money. I show the kids. I want them to learn that nothing is free, so, we mow yards, wash cars, and we raise the money. And we raise it in five months. We start in January, and June 1, we will have the money.



Long: Mm-hm. OK. Now, I guess the last thing is: Grenada, the place where we are, made the move from what you saw early on to what you see now. What about the future of this place?



Neely: Grenada has great potential. It's no doubt about it. We're centrally located. We have industry here that most towns this size does not have. We've got younger leadership coming on now. The hardcore whites that prevented us from moving in is not there. White people recognize they can't keep us down. The younger leadership recognizes that they cannot keep us down without keeping their self down and now they do not try to per se select or appoint black leadership. And this is what they used to try to do. If they wanted a black on the board, they wanted to put a black on the board that they want. And we used to tell them, "I don't want you to put no black on the board. You can put any white person you want to on the board. Let us select our leadership." And they--. And that type--. And now, they don't have any reservations about coming and talking to you about they need you if Grenada is going to receive this, because they're going to benefit, and that type stuff. Years ago, I can recall they wouldn't build a public swimming pool, because if they did, they're going to have to let everybody go. They wouldn't even build a swimming pool. In 1987, something I had been trying to do for about twenty years, we finally got the city to build a public swimming pool. Twenty years ago, you could have gotten it free. The money was there for a free public swimming pool, and they wouldn't even get it because if they do, the niggers were going to go to it. You know. So, they recognize now that survival--. I know that I look at years ago the Chamber of Commerce, I do not belong to it, and it's a reason why I don't. I work with them and try to get something done, but the Chamber of Commerce historically is a big business operation. They're going to fight union, and I think anybody that will fight union is crazy because I am a union supporter. And I tell them that. They say, "Jasper, why don't you belong to [the Chamber]?"



I say, "No, I'm not. You can't use me to say you've got Jasper Neely on the Chamber of Commerce and this and that." I said, "I'll help you on certain projects, but I won't join the Chamber." And that thing. But the Chamber will come and talk to me about a project that they feel needs a letter from us saying this and that, and we will do that. There will be a time when I write a letter opposing them, too. So, they can't say they're always going to have Jasper Neely on their side. It's going to be certain things I will support and certain things I will not support.

But I think that the best thing that we have now is that we can talk. You know, years ago, we couldn't even talk to them. "I ain't going to talk to that f-ing nigger, Jasper Neely!" They'd rather sink than talk to me about something.



Long: Right. OK. I want to thank you for this interview.



Neely: All right.



(End of the interview.)

 
 

This page created by Instructional Media Unit Webteam, and maintained by Charles Bolton.
iTech
The University of Southern Mississippi
http://www.usm.edu/crdp/index.html | Last updated
25 October 2003 3:37 PM AA/EOE/ADAI