An Oral History


Henry Peacock

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.



Henry Peacock III, was born on February 17, 1949, in Holcomb, Mississippi. His parents were Henry H. and Deola Peacock. He attended and was graduated from Carrie Dotson High School. He married Florence Mohead. They are both employed at Pennaco Hosiery in Grenada, Mississippi. He is a supervisor, and his wife is a machine operator. They have two children and two grandchildren, who reside in Memphis, Tennessee.

Table of Contents

Childhood 1

Picking cotton 4

Sharecropping 6

Childhood games 8

Freedom fighters, 1965 9

Integrating the Chicken Inn 11

Protest marching 14

Parchman Penitentiary 21




This is an interview for the Civil Rights Documentation Project. The interview is with Mr. Henry Peacock and is taking place on April 2, 2000. The interviewer is Worth Long.

Long: Could you tell me your name and where and when you were born, please?

Peacock: Henry Peacock III. I was born in Grenada County in Holcomb, Mississippi, February 17, 1949.

Long: OK. How do you spell Holcomb?

Peacock: H-O-L-C-O-M-B.

Long: Uh-huh. OK. Tell me something about your family during that time. What was their background?

Peacock: Well, my father, he was a farmer. He was a sharecropper down there on the plantation at Holcomb, Mississippi, on the Shaw Plantation. I was born on that plantation. I lived there until I was four years old. My father had a house built in Grenada on Gayosa Street which was right next to Carrie Dotson [High School] and Willie Wilson Elementary School. And we moved there in 1954, if I'm not making no mistake.

Long: Right.

Peacock: And I started to school at Willie Wilson Elementary School in 1954-55, and from there, we transferred. They built a new school over on Gayosa in 1956, and we started going to elementary school over there. [At the time], we was going over to old New Hope Elementary School. That's what I meant to say. So, we started going to school at the new elementary, Willie Wilson Elementary School and Carrie Dotson High School. OK. I'm just going to skip, say, ten years. When I started to high school, it was [in 1963].

Long: Do that, but first, can you tell me a little bit about your family? On your mother's side, and on your father's side.

Peacock: OK. My father was born out in Gore Springs[?], Mississippi. I don't know his exact birth date, but I've got it in here, and everything. My [mother's name was Deola M. Peacock]. I don't really know where she was born. I didn't get the history on her and everything, but my father, he comes from the Lumas and Peacock clan, which was his great-grandfather. My daddy's great-grandfather was a white man. His name was Levi Peacock, and that's where they come from, off this plantation, the Peacock Plantation out there [at Gore Springs]. That's why they got the Peacock name. They called these people that was mixed black and white mulattos, or something like that. And after that, my father, he moved to Holcomb, Mississippi. We stayed out there at Gore Springs, which I wasn't even born, but we moved to Holcomb, Mississippi. And [my father] started sharecropping on this plantation [that] they call the Shaw Plantation. I was born February 17, 1949, and I can remember myself staying [there] until 1954, if I'm not making no mistake. We moved to Grenada, and we moved to 786 Gayosa Street, which was right next to the Willie Wilson Elementary School and Carrie Dotson High School, which was [being] built. They [were in the process of] building it. And I went to school at the old New Hope Elementary School, and then, after they got the new school finished, we transferred everybody to the Carrie Dotson High School and the Willie Wilson Elementary School.

Long: Now, what year was that, again?

Peacock: That was 1956 when they finished the school. Fifty-four is when they started building it, and we was going to school at the old New Hope Elementary School and High School. This church was a high school and an elementary school all in one.

Long: Uh-huh. Now, you do realize that the Supreme Court decision Brown v. the Board of Education happened in fifty-four? Do you think that had anything to do with them building new schools?

Peacock: I would assume it did. You know. I was too young to understand what was going on, then. All I knew was [I] supposed to say, "Yes, sir," and "No, sir," to white people. You know. And I didn't understand why. You know. I mean, if they brought a little white boy up [that] was the same age I was, I had to say, "Yes, sir," and "No, sir," to him. And I couldn't figure that out. And that's just the way life was back then. [My] parents didn't try to explain it to [me] because I guess they figured, "If I do this, what it might cost my child?" You know, as mean as [some white] people was back in those days. So, they didn't even try to explain it, really, until I got to be sixteen years old, when I learned what it was all about. Then my daddy started explaining it to me. You know. What that meant. Why you had to say, "Captain." And I wondered why he called white men, captain, you know, and stuff like that. And then he explained to me what was going on. But I really didn't know.

Long: What did he say, kind of?

Peacock: Well, he said, like when we come up in the slavery time back there, when they brought the slaves over from Africa, and stuff like that, they treated them like they was animals. You know. Sold them off and did this and did that, and that's how we got started. He didn't exactly tell me this, but I figured it out. I was wondering, you know, if we was Africans, if our descendants was Africans, why do we look the way we do? I mean, some of the Peacocks [looked like they were white]. You know. And it got you to thinking, but you couldn't figure it out. And [no one] really wouldn't set down and explain it to you, what was going on then. And, I found out, recently here, back in 1995. I got this letter from this white guy from New Jersey, and his last name, I believe, was [Perice]. Let me get it right. [Later], he's a member of the Peacock clan. Anyhow, he wrote me a letter, and he said he had pulled my name off the Internet. He was going back researching the Peacock clan. How they all got started. The white Peacocks, the black Peacocks, and he sent me a copy of how the black Peacocks got started from Gore Springs out east. And I sat there and read it, and I asked my aunt because my dad had passed, and I asked my aunt about that and she said, "Well, every bit of [information] that he got is true. Every bit of it." You know. About how we got started. How that Peacock name got started. You know. There was some Levi Peacock, white guy that, you know what I mean. Back in those days what they [did to black women].

Long: Had (inaudible).

Peacock: Had a [sexual relation with some of the women in the family]. Yeah. Right. And that's how we got started and everything.

Long: No. No, that's fine. That was on your father's side?

Peacock: Yes, on my father's side.

Long: What about on your mother's side?

Peacock: I don't remember too much. All I can tell you about my mother, I was so young when my mother died, I had just turned twenty-one years old. And she stayed sick a lot. And I stayed away from home a lot because my dad started taking me to the cotton field when I was about seven years old, and he was cutting pulp wood with a cross-cut saw, you know, when I was about ten, eleven, twelve years old. So, I stayed with him all the time. He had to work.

[Speaking aside to a child.] OK. Bye-bye. Give me a hug. Mm-mm. Bye-bye. See you later.

Long: And who are your two children?

Peacock: Two grandchildren.

Long: They are who?

Peacock: That's Chinice and that's Jay, Henry Jemer over there.

Long: That's fine. That's your daughter's children?

Peacock: [Yes]. My daughter's children.

Long: That's wonderful.

Peacock: Yeah.

Long: Yeah. So, you were saying you went out with your father at seven to pick cotton. Tell me about that.

Peacock: Well, at that age, everybody in the house had to work, just about it. I was the only boy there. I was my father's only son.

Long: How many children in all?

Peacock: Let me get it right, now. Nine. There was nine in all, but I was my father's only son. I had six sisters and two more brothers, but the two brothers was my mother's kids from her previous marriage, and I was my father's only son. And the other two boys, they left the house when they was about fifteen or sixteen years old. Both of them went north. One went to Memphis and one went to Ohio. And that's where those boys was. And I didn't have nobody, really, to follow, but Daddy. You know. And he would take me everywhere and when he had to go and pick cotton and plow cotton, he had me with him. I was there. You know. I couldn't plow because I wasn't big enough, you know, but I was there with him all day long.

Long: But they gave you a sack?

Peacock: Oh, yeah. Oh, yeah. I picked cotton. I started picking cotton probably when I was five years old. See, we was sharecropping, then, and we would always be out. And I can't remember back that far, you know, but all of us was in the field, then. We was picking cotton, and [working in the woods].

Long: What time did you have to start?

Peacock: Well, most of the time, if I can remember correct, at daybreak, you was out there. Yeah. Mm-hm.

Long: And you come in at?

Peacock: Mostly at night. When it [got] dark, you'd come home. See, the cotton field was--. We was staying in the cotton field. You see what I'm getting at? Our house was in the cotton field. Right in the middle of the cotton field. You had a cotton field right there in the front of you. You had one behind you. You had one on the side of you, and you had one on the--. That's north, east, south, and west; you was covered. It was just cotton. When you wake up in the morning time, that's the first thing you see. You know. And I guess it was kind of like a psychological thing. I believe. You know, after you think back about it, say, "What was these people thinking about? Why did they just put nothing but cotton there where you couldn't wake up, when you wake up, that's all you [saw]? When you look out every window, that's all you [saw]?" So, I just figured, when I grew older, I said, "This wasn't nothing but psychology those people was playing on us." The younger kids, you know.

"This is what you're going to do. This is what you're going to be, the rest of your life." You know. After you thought about it.

Long: Right. Yeah. But, school was the way out, wasn't it?

Peacock: Well, yeah. We had a school they called Prospect down there at Holcomb. It was a church. It was the high school, and the elementary school, and we used to have to walk about--. I guess it was about four miles from our house to that school, every day. I mean, I would go, but it was kind of like, now, they've got Head Start? Well, that's the way they started us out back in [those] days. My sisters would take me to school with them, every day. The days that they could go. I'll put it like that. And we had to walk about four miles. Four miles to this school every day, and we would walk back in the evening time, and when it was field time for [us], maybe the next day, my sisters, they had to go pick cotton. Then, maybe the next day if it rained, go to school. You know. Just like that. And it was like that until I can remember them leaving. My two older sisters, Mattie and Amy, [had already] left. Deola and Maggie and myself [remained there]. It was only three kids left at the house when we was down there in Holcomb, Mississippi. The other two [older] sisters had married.

Long: And they were? Their names?

Peacock: Mary and Alcola[?]. Mary and Alcola, they had married and left.

Long: And the two boys by your mother?

Peacock: The two boys, they had left, too. Got married. Rodale[?], he married a lady called Earline, from Memphis, Tennessee. And Jesse, he never did marry. He just went to Cleveland, and he never did marry. He got some children, but he never did marry.

Long: You were talking about school. About how you went with your sisters to school.

Peacock: Oh, yeah.

Long: You said, when it rained, what?

Peacock: Yeah. Like, see, when it rained, you couldn't pick cotton. You couldn't chop cotton. You'd go to school on those days, like that. And that was the same way, when we grew up. When we was twelve or thirteen years old, when we moved to Grenada, it was the same way. See, my daddy was still sharecropping. And doing pulpwood because that's the only way he could make a living. He could feed us and clothe us and stuff like that. He had to [work] two jobs.

Long: Did you understand how--? Did he ever tell you about what kind of money? Whether he was on halves, or how was he sharecropping?

Peacock: Yeah. On sharecropping, I think, if I'm not making no mistake, at the end of the year, they would get so much money. I don't know how much. I didn't understand how that worked. You know. But at the end of the year, they would get so much money. And then, if I'm not making no mistake, it seemed like he used to tell me like, it was according to how many bales you'd do that year. You know. But, I never did understand. I mean, I knew what a bale of cotton was. You know. But I didn't know what they would give him at the end of the year for that particular bale of cotton. You know. And stuff like that, but that's what he [did to take care of his family].

Long: Let me look at how you were able to live, though. Did y'all eat pretty good?

Peacock: We ate, mostly, farm food. We raised our food. We had hogs. We had chickens. We had turkeys. We had geese. We had ducks. And we raised all our food right there on the farm. My mother used to make, like, hominy what you get in a can today? She used to take a big, old black wash pot and cook it. She would take corn that we been and picked out of the corn field and put it in that pot and put some kind of lye and salt or something like that. I think that's what it was.

Long: You called it lye?

Peacock: Lye or whatever it was.

Long: Lye. Lye. She put lye in it.

Peacock: Uh-huh. Yeah. She put lye in it, and she cooked that stuff, and it tasted just like the hominy you can buy off the shelf. And like for cookies or something like that, she used to take--. Let me get it right, now, how she used to make [those cookie] things. We called them tea cakes. She used to make them out of molasses. Take some flour and molasses and mix [it] together. Then put [it] in the oven and let them brown. And we would call them tea cakes. And that's what we would eat. And like for breakfast, most of the mornings, all we ate was rice and salt meat, you know, from our hogs. And that was about it. Ham. You know. Off the hog, because back in them days, they cured their own meat. You know. We had a house, what you call a smokehouse. My daddy would put that meat in there and smoke it and salt it down. You know. And it tasted just like [ham]. Oh, it tasted better than [that] stuff what we eat these days. You know. And everything. That's mostly what we ate. Up until I was sixteen years old. That's how I remember my mother and father fed us. It wasn't no [going] to the store and [getting] this. And, [going] to the store and [getting] that. The only thing they would buy from the store was flour. And I guess when I got about sixteen years old, I can remember [not] buying meal, because my daddy was still farming off and on, you know. And he would raise his corn and he would take it over [to the corn grinding mill]. It was a little [mill] over there, you could grind that corn up, and it would be corn meal when they'd get through with it. So, that's what he used to do, because I remember when I used to go over there with him. It's a little old shop. It's still setting there now. The building is still there. You know. And everything, but they don't have the equipment there that they used to [grind] with. You know. But that building [is still there].

Long: Grind up the corn.

Peacock: Grind up the corn and make meal out of it. Yeah. He would take a big, old bucket of corn. Or was it in a bucket or did he have it in one of those old things they call a croker sack. I believe a croker sack.

Long: A croker sack.

Peacock: Yeah. This brown bag. That's what they called it. A big, old brown bag, like it might hold 100 pounds of corn. And he would carry that thing on his shoulder, most of the time, over there. We would walk over there, and they would pour it in this grinder, and it would grind that [corn] up, and he would have some kind of, well, it looked like a pillow case to me. You know. I don't know what it was. And he would catch it in that. You know. And we'd bring it back to the house, and my mother used to buy stuff they called baking soda. Not the baking soda what [we] get now, the Arm & Hammer, but it was baking powder. That's what it [was]. Wait a minute, now. Let me get it right. Baking soda, because it was in a white can about so many ounces. I don't know. That's what she used to buy to put in that meal to make it rise. You know. And stuff like that. So. That's how we ate most of the time. We [lived] off the farm. We raised our food. Wasn't nothing store bought.

Long: Right. On special occasions, like Christmas and so forth, did you get anything extra?

Peacock: Yeah. At Christmastime, [the] only things we got was apples and oranges. [The] apples and oranges, you could smell them. You know. We knew it was getting close to Christmas when you could smell apples and oranges in the house. You know. And that's all we got. Sometimes my dad would get us something they called--. He called them English walnuts. That's how he pronounced them.

Long: English walnuts?

Peacock: And Brazil. Yeah. Brazil nuts.

Long: They have a little name for that? Toe? They have any nickname?

Peacock: No, that's all he'd call them. Brazil nuts and English walnuts. You know. That's what he called them. English walnuts. And that's all I ever know, today. I know it's a brown thing. We get them now, and I guess you call them English walnuts. I don't know what they are. But anyhow, occasionally we would get some of that. You know. But most of the time it was apples and oranges. One or two. We might get two apples apiece and two oranges apiece.

Long: You get any clothing, at all?

Peacock: No clothing. No clothing. Most of the time if I can remember back, maybe--. I didn't have but maybe one or two pairs of pants, and one pair of shoes. And you wore those until, you know, the bottom of your foot was on the ground. And he would take them, and if he could, up here at this shoe shop uptown, put a half sole on them. You know. And then you would wear them until they got too small for you. You know. And then you might get another pair. But sometimes, like, after school, or something like that, and on the weekends, we just run around barefooted. You know, to keep from tearing up our shoes that we wore to school. You know. And that was about it, the way we was brought up. You know, and stuff like that.

Long: Did you learn any particular games, and stuff? Was there extra time?

Peacock: Oh, yeah. (Laughter.) We used to, for games, we used to--. What did they call this thing? I'm trying to think of the name of it. We gave it this name. At that time, Willie Wilson had swings over there. And we would all go to the swings, and we would get this tire. My daddy had a pickup truck. And we would take this tire over there with us, and one guy would get on one end of that swing, and another guy would get on the other one, and everybody else [would] be in a swing. And we would swing, and they would roll that tire through. And if your swing hit that tire and knocked it down, then you had to get off the swing and roll it. Now, I forgot what [we] called that game. You know. We had a name for it, but it's been so long ago, I don't [remember].

Long: It was an empty tire?

Peacock: It was an empty tire. You just rolled it through. And if your swing hit that tire, you was out. You had to get out of your swing and go on the other end. We used to do that, and we used to take a plank and split it if it was too wide, and get an old wagon wheel and put a nail in it, and we would take that wheel. That old wagon wheel and put on that nail, and somehow or another we would fix it where we could push it, push that plank and that wagon wheel would stay on that nail. You know. It wouldn't run off of it. And that was what we called our car. We stayed on Gayosa [Street].

Long: On Gayosa?

Peacock: Gayosa.

Long: Gayosa.

Peacock: And the school was on Telegraph. Gayosa ran into Telegraph, and this big hill was back of the [high] school over there. You know, where they'd bull-dozed off, [to build] the school. And they'd just left this big hill. I don't know. I don't know how steep this [hill] was, but anyhow, we would get a piece of cardboard, and we'd just slide up and down that hill. You know. That's the only thing we had to do. And those were about the only games we had [and] could play with one another. But individually, you'd go out there and think of something yourself. Like we used to make old kites out of--. Well, we'd get sticks out of the woods, and we would put them together, you know, in this diamond design, and we'd get paper. Well, [some of those] old brown paper bags and put them together and we'd find enough string, and we'd fly [the] kite. You know. Most of the time in March, that's all we were doing. Mm-hm.

Long: Yeah. So, y'all would make a good life out of what you had?

Peacock: That's right. That's the only way you could do it back in those days. You know. It wasn't no money to even be mentioned, you know, about activities like that. You know. It just wasn't there, and it didn't even bother us. I guess, we didn't even realize. You know. It wasn't nothing to even focus on, especially when it came down to money because we just didn't realize--. I guess we thought it was supposed to have been like that. And when you think back, then you kind of glad it was. You know, because you learned so much from that, and all that experience, you know how to kind of tell it to your kids, and let them understand what's going on, now, that happened back then. You know.

Long: Yeah. So, tell me about, then, how things that happened back then that moved you to be able to do what you did, in terms of when freedom came?

Peacock: You mean when the freedom fighters came in?

Long: Yeah.

Peacock: OK. I was--.

Long: About what year are we talking about?

Peacock: Nineteen sixty-five.

Long: OK.

Peacock: Let me see, I was in eighth grade [in 1963]. I was tenth grade [in] 1965. And I never will forget that. That was a turning point in my life. We stayed right there on Gayosa, up a hill, off of Highway 7 [and] South. The freedom fighters came in across the Yalobusha River over on Highway 8, and then they came [on] to Pearl Street. They turned and came down Pearl [that] ran into Gayosa. They hit Gayosa and they come straight up across, and my house [was] setting on [the] left-hand side. The school is on the [right]-hand side [coming in from the north]. I could go to my window and look out and see every bit of Willie Wilson Elementary School. Carrie Dotson was behind Willie Wilson, but I could see all of Willie Wilson, the school I went to first through seventh grade. You know. All I had to do was walk out of my door, and I was at school. But anyhow, the freedom fighters, they came in, and I didn't know what was going on. I had heard some guys like Robert Johnson, the guy I was telling you about. I think he was a senior back then in high school, or junior one, back in 1965. And you would hear those guys talk about Mohammad Ali all the time. You could see them in a huddle at school talking about Ali, and I wondered who in the [world]. He was Cassius Clay, then. I said, "Who in the devil are they talking about?" Because I didn't have television, but those guys did. And I'd hear them talking about Sonny Liston and Cassius Clay. That's all you would hear: Sonny Liston and Cassius Clay. I said, "What are those guys talking about?" And then they was talking about how Cassius Clay rebelled. You could hear those guys. See, those guys, they was older than we were. They didn't talk much to us, but those guys, they knew a whole lot more. They were a whole lot more experienced. They had been up into cities like Chicago, in the summertime, visiting. And they knew it was different up there than it was down here. And you could hear them talking about that, but I still didn't understand what was going on. But anyhow, when that movement come in, one evening over there about, I guess it was on Friday. I believe it was on Friday evening when we had gotten out of school. We were all setting on the porch, and all of a sudden, all these people. You could hear [those] people singing.

And I heard my daddy say, "That must be [those] freedom fighters." See, he knew they was coming, but he never told us. He never told any of us. I mean, maybe my sisters knew, but I didn't, and all of a sudden all [those] people [came up the hill]. And they started putting up tents out there on the campus, you know. And some of the people come over to [my house]. They put a tent up in our yard. Some of the people stayed in the house with us that night. I [have] forgot some of [their] names, but one guy, this one guy I met, he was about my age. I forgot his name, too. He even slept with me that night, and that morning we got up and I think everybody went down to Bellflower Church because that was going to be the meeting place for the movement, and that's where we went, and that's when they introduced us to what they called, like, Cottonreader and Leon. Those guys was kind of like lieutenants.

Long: That's Leon Hall?

Peacock: Yeah, you know. If you want to put it in a [military] context, they were kind of like lieutenants, you know, in the movement, and that's when they started [to organize]. They set up these groups [of teenagers] to go integrate different places because they knew these places was [for whites only]. Like the Chicken Inn, [it was for] all white. Little Widget's[?], [was also for whites]. And there was another place up there on the highway. But anyhow, they would set up groups to go integrate these places, like up there at the courthouse, those bathrooms and stuff like that. [We] would go to those where only whites [were allowed]. You know, we would go to use the bathroom, and stuff like that. Anyhow, they started choosing group leaders to do these things. Leon and Cottonreader, they would ask you, "Do you want to volunteer to be a group leader?" And you know, I guess, back in [those] days, we was so naive, everybody throwed their hands up. You know.

"Yeah, man!" You know. We wasn't thinking about the consequences of what might happen. You know. "Yeah, man, I want to lead this group."

So, I guess because I was the biggest in that group, in that bunch, he said, "We're going to split you up, six to a group, and you're going to have this one group leader. There's going to be seven of you guys, and young ladies." And they would give us a car, and anyhow, that particular day, they told me, say, "We want you to take a group to that Chicken Inn down there." [This was an all-white restaurant.]

I said, "Man, they picked the worst place." [That's] what I was saying to myself, but I knew about that place. You know. I knew the history of it. I said, "OK." So, they gave us some money. I never will forget that. Gave me a ten dollar bill. Back then, you know, for seven people, you could buy, I mean, ten hamburgers for almost three dollars. You know what I mean. (Laughter.) So, I went in, and we ordered everybody hamburgers. We sat there on the stools where black people wasn't allowed, [and we] come in that door; we went in.

Long: Right. Where would you go?

Peacock: We had to go to the back. They had a back--. Well, I don't know. Well, it was kind of an alley. You had to go up in this alley, and it was like an old hog pen or something, going in the back of that place. You know, it was all growed up, and you would go up in there, and if you wanted something, that's what you would order from, back there in that back part of that Chicken Inn.

Long: They'd pass it out through what?

Peacock: Well, they had a little counter in there. They had a little counter in there, I mean. It might have been as long as this table right here, and everything. About four foot high, and that's all they had in there. Well, they had a pinball machine in there for black people to lose their money [in]. You know, and everything. They had that in there, and you would just go there and order what you wanted, and they would bring it out to you. You know. You'd go on about your business.

Long: Right. But you went around to the--?

Peacock: We went around to the front. And this lady that owned that place was named Ms. Tony. I never will forget her. She wasn't no prejudiced lady. She just was going along with what was going on in [those] days. You could tell that because she didn't mind serving us. It wasn't her; it was the guy that owned the service station across the street over there, from her. And if I'm not making no [mistake], I don't want to call this guy no wrong name, but I believe that guy was a Worshen[?]. And anyhow, we went in that Chicken Inn, and we ordered all those hamburgers, and she was there. She went back there. She said, "You want ten? Sure." You know. We ordered ten hamburgers. It wasn't but seven or us, but we were going to take some of [the hamburgers] with us.

[Leon and Cottonreader] told us, "Just whatever you don't eat, bring it back." You know. Anyhow, the next thing I [knew], that door opened, and this guy come in. This white guy come in, him and several more white guys. It wasn't nobody in there but us, just us seven black. It was three girls and four boys. James Paul Rimmer[?], Will Oatis Washington[?], if I can remember right, correct. I [have] forgot those girls. Now, I believe one of them was Pat Durr that was with us. She's dead. But she was involved real heavily in that movement. I think she was with us.

Anyhow, this white guy walked up to me, and he say, "What are you doing in here?"

And we said, "Well, we just come in to buy burgers." You know.

He said, "Well, didn't you know niggers wasn't allowed in here?"

And we said, "Yeah, that's why we're in here. We're integrating the place." You know.

And this guy said--. He takes a gun out of his pocket, and he cocked it.

Long: What was it?

Peacock: A thirty-eight. I didn't know what it was then, but when I got back to the church and explained to Leon and told [him] what the gun looked like, he said that sounded like a thirty-eight because it was a short gun.

And he takes this gun, and he put it up to my nose right there and say, "You believe I'll blow your brains out?"

And I'm just naive. I'm steady turning away from the man, like, you know, "This ain't nothing." You know. "Just a water gun." You know. I mean, that's the way it was. You know. Because you didn't think about it. You really didn't think about it. And I told him, "Naw."

And he said, "Well, y'all some smart niggers." I think that's the way he put it.

And Ms. Tony finally told him, say, whatever his name was, "Why don't you leave, Doc?" I believe that's what she called him. "Why don't you just leave, and let me go on and serve these people, and get it over with?" And he did. He left. And we finished up. We went on back to the church because we had to go back and tell what we experienced. What happened. You know. And we went back, and we told Leon and Cottonreader and Hosea. I think Hosea was there.

Long: (Inaudible) Hosea?

Peacock: Uh-huh. And we told him what happened and everything and was telling Leon what type of gun this guy had put up to my nose and head. And Leon said, "Well, that sounds like a snub-nose thirty-eight." And one of the guys that was in the Chicken Inn with me, was in that group with me, he knew about guns. James Paul did, but I didn't. I didn't know nothing about no gun. You know.

James Paul said, "I think that's what it was." You know.

Long: Had they trained y'all anything to do in case you had trouble?

Peacock: Yeah.

Long: Tell me about that.

Peacock: To always be nonviolent. Whatever they did. You know. You couldn't fight back. They would tell you, "If they do something--." I believe. How did they have that thing set up for us to get in contact with them? They said, "If one group member gets in trouble, and if one got away, to come back to the church and do something." I don't know. We would do something, but we couldn't fight. We couldn't. It wasn't no way. Somebody could walk up to you and spit in your face; you couldn't do nothing. You just had to take it, and that's what happened a lot of times. You know. Especially when we was marching at night, and they called themselves protesting, too. The white people did. And they would just march right up beside us, and whatever they wanted to do, they did it. If they wanted to kick you, they kicked you. If they wanted to spit in your face, they spit in your face. You know. And got away with it.

Long: You saying that y'all marched at night, but the white people from Grenada marched, too?

Peacock: Yeah. OK. We would march around, and we would leave Bell Flower, go down Pearl Street, and we would make circles around the square. And we were singing, "Oh, Freedom." And "Freedom Now." And there was one more we used to sing all the time, "Ain't Going to Let Nobody Turn Us Around." And, what was the name of that other song we used to sing? "Segregation Bound to Fall." You know. And all that. And we were just going around and around the square, and then the next thing you know--. See, we would come in from the west, and we'd turn, and we'd walk south for about a block. Then you was at the square. You started going around and around the square. And we would sing and protest. And then the next thing you know, you would see, and you would hear another bunch of people down there hollering, "Niggers." And that, and what they were going to do. And next thing you know you'd see them pop that hill, and they was marching in two files. You know. Two in a file, and they would come right around that square and join us. But, you know, the National Guard was there and the State Troopers was there, and most of the time, they kept us separated. You know what I mean? You would have a National Guard in between both of those lines, and all of us were just going around in circles. They would be on the outside sometime. Or either they would be on the inside, and we would be on the outside.

Long: Right. Women and men?

Peacock: Women and men.

Long: On both sides?

Peacock: On both sides. That's right. And this was just about every night. They were what you call "counter-protesting." You know. And every night we would go up there, we would march up there, that's what we had to contend with. They would be up there waiting on us. The nights they didn't march, they would get up on that square and just heckle us to death or up on top of that courthouse building and shoot steel balls with a sling shot. Mm-hm. Yeah.

Long: Anybody you know get hit with one?

Peacock: Yeah, it's a bunch of kids got hit with those steel balls. A guy named Johnny Lemon. He's dead now. See, back in those days, we wore what you called a "college cut." Most guys did, but we wore flat-tops. Most of us guys did. And this guy Johnny Lemon wore a college cut. He would cut all his hair off, and he was real dark complected, and at night his head would shine. You know. And those guys. You could hear those white guys say, "Look at that bald-head nigger." And they would say, "Get that shining head." And you could see them on top of that building up there, but you never could see them when they used that sling-shot and that steel ball. All you could hear were them things hitting. See, because I think what they was doing, they would shoot them straight up instead of aiming them at you. They were just shooting them up in the air, and [those] things were just raining down on [us]. You know. Mm-hm. And a couple of [those] things hit. I don't know. It seemed like they would pick [Johnny Lemon] out of the bunch all the time. You know. And sometimes we would have stuff that we could put over our head, or either we would get up under those canopies, you know, in front of those stores [down town]. We would get up under there, but for some reason or another, those steel balls would find [Johnny Lemon's] head just about every night. He didn't understand it, either.

Long: Shiny black head.

Peacock: Mm-hm. That's what they would call it. "See that shiny black nigger." That's what they called [him.] "Black-head nigger." That's what they used to say. And they would just shoot those steel balls until we'd leave from up there.

Long: Uh-huh. Now, we're talking about early 1966.

Peacock: Mm-hm. Yeah.

Long: So, even though you weren't aware of people coming, are we talking about the freedom fighters coming from the Meredith March into Grenada? Or who were these folks who were marching?

Peacock: No, these were Grenadians. Yeah. We [would meet] at the church. All those people that came in with the freedom fighters, with Dr. King and with Hosea, those people had left. All they done was came in and set up. You know.

Long: Ah. So, they'd come from Jackson, Mississippi, then, to here.

Peacock: I don't know. All I know is they came in across [the] Yalobusha River [Bridge from the north].

Long: Which way is that? North?

Peacock: The Yalobusha River is north of [where I lived].

Long: North. So, they came from north.

Peacock: Yeah. They came in. The way I understood it, they came down through Batesville from Memphis, the way I understood that. You know.

Long: OK.

Peacock: That they walked [Highway] 51 all the way down from Memphis.

Long: OK. That's what I wanted to know.

Peacock: Mm-hm. Yeah.

Long: Yeah. That's fine.

Peacock: Anyhow, that's how they came in. And they came in and just kind of what you call set up shop. You know. They got all our people organized here in Grenada, and they left, like I said, they were lieutenants. Like Hosea, which he was one of the top lieutenants. And they left Cottonreader, and they left Leon Hall, and it was a couple more guys. It was a big, old guy that used to have an old, antique car. It wasn't antique back then, but it was some kind of old Chevy. About a fifty-something Chevy.

Long: Was it Big Lester?

Peacock: Yeah. I believe that was his name.

Long: Yeah. (Laughter.)

Peacock: That was a big, old guy. He was a big dude. (Laughter.) And anyhow, those guys, they set up here, and they got us organized, and kind of made us what you call their little lieutenants. You know. And stuff like that. And that's how it got started. That's how we started marching. Cottonreader and Hosea. Leon Hall. Most of the times, they would lead the march. Especially when they thought it was going to be trouble.

Long: Did any of them have a loudspeaker, or anything like that?

Peacock: Yeah. Bullhorns.

Long: Who had it?

Peacock: Most of the time Cottonreader and Leon. Hosea kind of stayed in the background a little bit. They was gunning for him. They had threatened they was going to kill him. You know. And stuff like that. Most of the big-time leaders. I guess they figured, "If we kill him, that'll silence that bunch right there." You know. That's the reason why they organized us the way they did. Because they knew, you know, their life was on the line every second, and everything.

Long: About how many groups of seven? What did they call you?

Peacock: Well, I was a group leader.

Long: OK. And how many in your group?

Peacock: Seven. There was seven to each group, and we had--. They would let us all go at once. They wouldn't send us at different times. We would get there, and we would organize, and they said, "Look. We're going to hit all these places at the same time." You know. And that's what we would do. And we would all leave, and about the time they would say, "Now, we're going to take you so-and-so so-and-so to get there." Or they're going to take this group here so-and-so so-and-so to get there. We all had watches. We had everything in sync and in time. We [knew] what time it's going to take you to get there. People just hit [those] places at the same time. Just see what these people, you know, what they're going to do. You know. And everything. And that's what we would do.

Long: And tell me your objective again and how you fulfilled it. Now, your objective as a team-leader. As, say, I'm telling you, "You're a team leader. Here's what you're supposed to do." What would he tell you you were supposed to do?

Peacock: What I was supposed to do is mostly observe. I would go in as a team leader and sit there and just see what was going to happen either way. With the group that I had with me. You know. They would tell them, say, "Look. Don't be shy. You get up and you play music, you know, like you would do anywhere else. Play the juke box and the slot machines." Or whatever. The pinball machines. That's what they was. And, you know, just do whatever a normal teenager would do. You know.

Long: What place?

Peacock: Chicken Inn.

Long: Chicken Inn.

Peacock: Chicken Inn. Yeah. That was the name of it. And, like I said, they just didn't allow no black people in there. And they had all those pinball machines, you know. And we would see those white kids go in there and play those things. You know. And we'd be wanting to do it, too. It didn't cost but a nickel. You know. You could play five or six games for a nickel. You know. And anyhow, that's what they would have us to do. And this Little Widget place up here, it was sort of like what you call a Sonic, now. You know. The Sonic's down the highway down there, now.

Long: Hamburgers.

Peacock: Yeah. A little hamburger. A little old Krystal burger. You could go in there and get your little burgers and shakeup. I mean milk shakes, and little slushes, and you know, stuff like that. And they didn't allow nothing in there but whites. You know. And we would send groups in there. I have been in there, you know, with a group, but it was after another group had hit it. So, you didn't have--. I didn't have the problems that that first group did, that went there, because these people [had] got used to us coming in there. You know. So, I mean.

Long: So, describe the problem of that first group.

Peacock: Well, that first group that went there probably had the same kind of trouble I did because if I can remember correctly, one of the guys that was in that group come back and was talking about how those white people carried out and how they called up these [National Guardsmen]. I guess he said, when they went in, the next thing they [knew], they was in this little [room]. See, they had these little pinball machines in a little room by theyself. Off from the place, the little part where you eat at. And they was in there playing pinball, and the next thing they [knew], they turned around, and they see all [of] these guys in these green uniforms. And they knew right then, they was connected with the Army some kind of way, but he didn't realize they was National Guards. They were white National Guardsmen. And they had called them guys up there, you know, to try to intimidate them. You know. And stuff like that. They wouldn't mess with them, but they would call them names and say, you know, racial things. Racial slurs and stuff like that. And that was about it. They wouldn't [get physical]. Physically, they didn't do nothing, but they would, like I say, you know, try to [break you down]. It was a mental thing, mostly. You know. Try to break you down that way.

Long: Yeah. Now, I'm trying to complete this concept of they trained you to go down there. Told you what to do. Gave you ten dollars. You went down there. You were to observe and to, as you said, be sure that one person was able to get away if there were some problems.

Peacock: Yeah. If there was a problem, if something [came] up, we made sure we got one person out of there. You know. If I'm not making no mistake, we always kept [one person stationed at the car], because they gave us a car [to get around in]. If I'm not making no mistake, John Paul would come in with us when we ordered, but he would go back out and get in the car and just set and wait. You know. We would always have one group member setting out there in that car.

Long: OK. Now, after she had prepared the hamburgers, what happened? Did she--?

Peacock: Oh, yeah, she served us. She prepared the hamburgers. She brought the hamburgers out, and served us and asked us what else did we want. Tea or whatever. Water. And she gave us that. Like I say, this lady, she wasn't no prejudiced lady. I don't think. She was a good lady, but the people that surrounded her business down there, she had to go along with what was going on. You know. So. But she did speak up. Like I said, she told this guy when he pulled this gun out, you know, to get on out of there. Go on and let her do what she needed to do.

Long: OK. Now, I'm going to move to something. It may sound silly. When did you get a chance to eat the hamburgers?

Peacock: Never did get a chance to eat it. We took it back to church with us. (Laughter.) I don't even remember. You know. Once I thought about that, I thought, "Now, this guy put a gun up my nose." You know. It scares you to death once you think about it, because, you know I didn't really think about it when I was standing up in that Chicken Inn, and this guy had this gun on me. And then, after it settled in, I said, "My God! That guy could have blew my brains out!" I could have been dead. I think about it a lot, now. I can be laying up in the bed, now, sometimes, and I'll get to thinking about that. I'll think, "Man!" I'll think, "Why did I do that? Why in the world did I do that?" You know.

Long: Why did you?

Peacock: Well, I can see why. It had to be done because if I hadn't have, you think about what things would be like, now. You know. If I hadn't have did what I did, someone else would have].

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

Peacock: --and some of [those] other people hadn't have did what they done back then, you think about it. I say, "Well, it had to be worth it." Because what I'm dealing with, now. You know, racism [isn't] gone nowhere.

Long: Yeah.

Peacock: It's still as well, and it's still plenty right here in the city of Grenada. And I run up on it on my job all the time. And being where I was back then, and doing some of the things I did, kind of made me handle what happens to me on my job a whole lot better, you know, as far as racism is concerned. And I fall back on that, and I think about it. You know. I say--. Just like we did, sometimes, in the movement: you could give a person enough rope and let them hang themselves. You know what I mean? And that's what we would do. It was kind of like a bait thing. You know. They was trying to get to us, our psyche, and we were just giving them enough rope until they fooled around and hanged themselves and they was up there in federal court. You know what I mean?

Long: Uh-huh.

Peacock: And stuff like that. But, you know, that kicking and stuff like that. And sometimes they would catch one of us alone and throw beer cans at us or something like that and, you know, full containers of beer. And stuff like that. And they would sic dogs on us. You know. And most of the time this stuff was being taped because we had, it was several news organizations in here. I know ABC was one of them, and they caught a lot of this stuff on tape. Most of the time when we was going to integrate a place, it was going to be a camera crew there somewhere. They knew that. See. That was one thing that saved us. You know. When we would go. They would never tell us where that camera crew was going to be. They said, "They will be there, but you probably won't even see them." Those people had to hide their selves almost as much as we did. You know what I mean? Because that's something they didn't want. They didn't want that camera crew there, you know, to get them on tape. You know. Or on video. And that's what would happen most of the time. Mm-hm.

Long: OK. Now, let's talk about the resolution. How did things get settled?

Peacock: Well, what happened: We ended up, when this thing back in, I believe it was the later part of sixty-six or early part--. Yeah. Sixty-six. We had this big--. It was kind of winding down, and we had this big march. We were going to march over on John Rundle [School] over there. We'd left Bell Flower Church, and we headed toward John Rundle [School].

Long: Which is what?

Peacock: John Rundle High School. It was an all-white high school. There was some black kids going to school over there. We had integrated, but there was some stuff going on over there that, you know, we didn't like. [It] was happening to some of our people. You know. And we was going to march on the school. We left Bell Flower Church. We started to John Rundle over there, and the police stopped, held up the line. We was about [300] or 400 strong, and I guess everybody got kind of bored there. They held us up so long--especially people that was on the tail end of the line. Well, everybody started falling out. Everybody just started falling out. People saying, "Well, we're going back to the church. We're standing out here in this hot sun, and them people won't let us over there." Well, that left, still, about 200 people that was already done got in the vicinity of, you know, what they needed to be at, and the next thing we knew--. All of us that got back to the church and everything, the next thing we knew, we was on our way home because we disassembled. You know. Some of the guys that were there, like Leon, that didn't make it over to John Rundle, stayed to come back to the church with us, told us, "Y'all just go on home, and come back tonight. We can march on the square." That's what we did. We left, headed home, and when we got to South Street, Highway 7, this big truck come [by]. Cow truck. And we look up and [all of] our comrades [was on this truck]. [They were going] to Parchman, on the back of a cow truck. Now, they took every last one of those people to Parchman down there, put them in this great big old room, like a big old hog pen or something, and made them strip down and [used a] water hose and flushed them out. You know like they was animals or something. And I mean this was just did to humiliate them. It wasn't nothing that [those] people had done, but they told them they was arresting them and they didn't have enough room up there at the jailhouse and they were going to have to take them to Parchman, but this was just something to humiliate those people with. And they kept [those] people down there all night, that night. But the next day, I guess the federal people, told them if they didn't get those people back to Grenada or whatever, what was going to happen. The next day, they had those people back up here. OK.

That same day, after they turned those people loose, we decided to march on the courthouse up [town]. And we did. We marched on the courthouse lawn up [town]. We was singing, and some of the guys were speaking, like Leon and Cottonreader and all that. And the next thing [we knew, we saw all of] these state troopers and a couple of National Guardsmen, and [those] forest commission guys who worked with the forest commission. See, you knew the different groups: sheriff's department, local police, Grenada police. You see all [those] guys, like, putting on gear. You know, like they're fixing to go to war, or something. You know. We [stood] up, not knowing what these guys [was] fixing to do. And they come out with these clubs, these billy clubs. They had told us to get off the courthouse lawn, and we wouldn't do it. And, man, they started beating heads. I didn't get hit, because most of the people that got caught up in the beating part of it, was, say, thirty-five, forty, forty-something years old. They couldn't get out of there, you know, fast enough. We did, because we was young enough to get away. And we ran. That's the only way you could get out of there, but all at the same time, this channel five news was taping this stuff, and these guys for the sheriff's department, for the National Guard, and Mississippi Highway Patrol, they supposed to have been up there to protect us. Not up there to beat us to death. Because we wasn't doing nothing. We assembled peacefully, you know, and everything. And they didn't have no idea they was being taped, though. And we ended up, when this thing was winding down, we had to go to court in Oxford, Mississippi, and they called a couple of us up there to testify. Asked us what happened up there that day. To, "Just tell your story." And everybody did. There was five or six people told them what happened. How the state troopers did. And how the sheriff's department, what the National Guard Armory, all of them was in cahoots together and just started beating people. And they denied it. This sheriff got up and denied every bit of it.

"Aw, those niggers are lying." This and that. They didn't have no idea all of this was on film. Well, after they got all those law enforcement officers get up there and perjure their selves, then they popped that film out on them. See. And that did it. (Laughter.) That did it, man. Those guys were never the same, from that day on. Some of them, you might as well say they committed suicide, because they just died out. You could tell this done something to them, because, see, one of those guys ended up having to do some time in prison. One of those law enforcement officers did. A couple of them did. Old Grady Carroll and Suggs Ingram. Wolf, a guy they called Wolf. A bunch of them, they had to go to jail. And this humiliated them, and those guys, it wasn't but a couple more years after that, all those guys were dead. They just died out. They just--. And you could tell the hatred. You could see them, after all this had happened, they would see you somewhere, and--I'm going to tell you something--[those] jokers was going to remember you, and that's all there was to it. They remembered you. They remembered you, and you was going to remember them, too.

Long: Right.

Peacock: And they would look at you with this hatred in them. You know. And you could see it, especially like old Suggs Ingram. What he did. How he did black people and stuff like that.

Long: Some people were Klansmen, weren't they?

Peacock: Yeah! Oh, man, most of those guys was Klansmen. Grady Carroll, Suggs Ingram, Wolf. All those guys, they was. The whole--. You might as well say the whole police department was Klan because those guys didn't try to protect you. None whatsoever. They didn't try to protect you. The only thing they wanted to do was beat your head to death. That's what they wanted to do. Sure did. And that's what happened. It ended up in federal court up there, and it ended up with a lot of those guys losing their jobs. You know. And stuff like that. And they ended up going to prison. And everything just kind of wound on down from then. In 1967 I graduated from Carrie Dotson High School, and I left there and went to work [for] Binswanger [Mirror Company] for about a year in 1968.

Long: That's a local plant?

Peacock: A local plant, Binswanger Mirror Company.

Long: Mm-hm.

Peacock: And I had this sister up in Ohio, and she was at me about coming up there to live with her. And I left in sixty-eight, the later part of sixty-eight, and went to Ohio. Stayed up there from sixty-eight through sixty-nine, I believe. Seventy. Sixty-nine! Sixty-nine. I worked up there at a place they called Knights Brothers[?]. This company made wallpaper, and I was, I guess, what you want to call a little technician. All I did was set the machine up. I didn't know that back then, you know, because--. (Laughter.) But that's what they call them, now. And I just set the machine up for those women. You know. They make the wallpaper and stuff like that. And then, I come back to Grenada, and I went to work for Federal Compress[?]. It wasn't no jobs. You know. Especially for black people.

Long: What does Compress do?

Peacock: It pressed cotton. Bales of cotton. It just compressed it to where, you know, they could ship it overseas or wherever. You know. And I worked over there from [1970 to 1971].

Long: Your wife is? Her name?

Peacock: Florence.

Long: And she was born?

Peacock: She was born in Carroll County on June 16, 1950.

Long: Uh-huh. What was her family name?

Peacock: Moheads. They was Moheads out of Carroll County. I met her at the place that I had integrated all [those] years [ago], but they was called Clarence Dixon[?] then. They had renamed it from the Chicken Inn to Clarence Dixon. The Chicken Inn was still there, but Clarence Dixon had the back part of it. And that's where I met [my wife] at. Sure did, and I think it was about two years after, or a year that we was married. And both of us, we worked over there at the Compress from, I think, seventy up until seventy-one, and then she went to work at Pennaco Hosiery. Danskin, where I'm at now. She went to work out there, and I think I went to work a year later in 1972. And that's where we've been ever since.

Long: Yeah. That's a wonderful story. And if you look back on your early history, and then your early education, your early involvement in the movement, if the movement had not come, where would we be?

Peacock: You know. You sit down, and you think about that. Say, "If those people hadn't have came, exactly where we would have been, now?" But I sit back and I think about it and if it hadn't have happened, if Dr. King hadn't have happened, you know, if he--. I think we would have been back where we was, then, because the people, some white people have changed. You know what I mean? But this racism, this thing that blinds [some people, is still alive and well in our lives today. I started out as a machine mechanic, and I bid for that job, and I got it. And that's where I've been ever since. I worked my way up from a fixer trainee [to] fixer. Then, if you [have] the mechanical skills, you can [work] up to technician, [lead fixer, and supervisor]. That's if you want it, and everything, and if the job comes available. And that's what happened. I worked at all four of those levels: fixer-trainee, fixer, lead fixer, knit technician, and then up to supervisor, where I am today.

Long: I'm certainly proud of where you are today. And what you did in the past.

Peacock: Oh, yeah.

Long: And what you are to do, what you will do for your whole family. I thank you.

Peacock: Yeah, man. Yes, sir. I thank you.

(End of the interview.)


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