Interviewer: Worth Long
This interview was transcribed
as part of the Civil Rights Documentation Project.
Funding for this
project was provided in part by the Mississippi
the National Endowment for the Humanities, and
Department of Archives and History.
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.
Delta conditions in early sixties
Working at Liberty Cash Supermarket
John F. Kennedy's assassination
Invited to be NAACP president,
Lawsuit against Liberty Cash
Election to city council in
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
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?
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.
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.
OK. How did you get involved in the movement and about how
old were you then?
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.
Can you think of any incident in your childhood where you
learned how the system works?
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?
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.
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.
So, tell me about your education. Did you actually feel that
you got a good education where you went to school?
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.
What years were you at Alcorn?
I went to Valley. I didn't go to Alcorn.
Long: I mean,
was in fifty-nine, sixty.
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?
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.
And would you say that you experienced mostly good times or
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.
Where was that?
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--.
were cheering like they were at a football game because who
had been killed?
the president had been killed.
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
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
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,
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
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.
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
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
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
Long: And that's
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: His last
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.
kind of population, at that time, did black people comprise?
the city limits of Grenada--.
(End of tape one, side one.
The interview continues on tape one, side two.)
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.
So, what years were those, now?
Neely: I ran
And you ran for the?
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.
percent. And then the county?
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.
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
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--?
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?
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.
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?
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.
And this was not just when Dr. King came in support of the
Meredith march. What years are we talking about?
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.
So, who else was with him at that time?
everybody that I knew of that was surrounding him through.
Jesse was a youngster.
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?
Williams[?]. And R.B. Cotton Reeder, and I'm trying to think
of this other guy.
Long: Was it
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--.
I believe that's who it was.
I remember him.
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.
When you saw him, what did you think? When you actually saw
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.
Now, it's my understanding that James Meredith came. Do you
remember the history of that?
me about what happened when he started his march against fear.
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.
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.
I was just trying to figure: Who took up the march?
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.
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.
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?
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.
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--.
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?
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?
have to grant them the march.
Has that ever happened here?
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--.
is the Klan?
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."
going to burn a cross?
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?
They made a tactical mistake, I suppose.
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.
you didn't see any guns, did you?
see any guns? You could see them if you wanted to see them.
So, they were armed?
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.
He worked for the legal--?
Legal Defense. (Inaudible) legal services.
Neely: At that
time Joe Louis[?] out of Lexington was involved with them.
So, things from the time that Meredith had a march and Dr.
King got involved, things just turned over. They just changed
Long: So, in
employment? What areas did you see the most change?
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.
But that is an advance, isn't it?
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?
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."
but when you were confronted with the same thing, what did
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.
Yeah. You think he would have become--?
I don't think so. It has never been in Jeff to be a party
Neely: He never
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?
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.
that's right. He had been a quarterback before me.
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?
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.
is that community called?
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.)
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
me about the museum that y'all are developing.
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
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
Long: And this
provided legal services and what else?
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.
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?
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
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.
OK. I want to thank you for this interview.
(End of the interview.)