interview was transcribed as part of the Civil Rights Documentation
Funding for this
project was provided in part by the Mississippi
the National Endowment for the Humanities, and
Department of Archives and History.
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,
Picking cotton 4
Childhood games 8
Freedom fighters, 1965 9
Integrating the Chicken Inn
Protest marching 14
Parchman Penitentiary 21
AN ORAL HISTORY
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.
you tell me your name and where and when you were born, please?
Peacock III. I was born in Grenada County in Holcomb, Mississippi,
February 17, 1949.
Long: OK. How
do you spell Holcomb?
OK. Tell me something about your family during that time.
What was their background?
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.
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.
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.
what year was that, again?
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.
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?
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.
did he say, kind of?
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).
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?
on my father's side.
about on your mother's side?
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?
Chinice and that's Jay, Henry Jemer over there.
fine. That's your daughter's children?
My daughter's children.
So, you were saying you went out with your father at seven
to pick cotton. Tell me about that.
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?
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?
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].
time did you have to start?
most of the time, if I can remember correct, at daybreak,
you was out there. Yeah. Mm-hm.
Long: And you
come in at?
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.
Yeah. But, school was the way out, wasn't it?
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?
and Alcola[?]. Mary and Alcola, they had married and left.
Long: And the
two boys by your mother?
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
Long: You said,
when it rained, what?
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?
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
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
or whatever it was.
Lye. She put lye in it.
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].
up the corn.
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
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.
On special occasions, like Christmas and so forth, did you
get anything extra?
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.
Brazil. Yeah. Brazil nuts.
have a little name for that? Toe? They have any nickname?
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?
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?
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?
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?
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.
So, y'all would make a good life out of what you had?
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.
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?
mean when the freedom fighters came in?
what year are we talking about?
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.
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
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.
Where would you go?
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.
pass it out through what?
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.
But you went around to the--?
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.
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.
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?
me about that.
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
Long: You saying
that y'all marched at night, but the white people from Grenada
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.
Women and men?
Long: On both
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.
you know get hit with one?
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.
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.
Now, we're talking about early 1966.
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?
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.
don't know. All I know is they came in across [the] Yalobusha
River [Bridge from the north].
way is that? North?
Yalobusha River is north of [where I lived].
So, they came from north.
They came in. The way I understood it, they came down through
Batesville from Memphis, the way I understood that. You know.
they walked [Highway] 51 all the way down from Memphis.
Long: OK. That's
what I wanted to know.
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
Long: Was it
I believe that was his name.
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?
Long: Who had
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.
how many groups of seven? What did they call you?
I was a group leader.
Long: OK. And
how many in your group?
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?
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.
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.
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,
Long: So, describe
the problem of that first group.
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.
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
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
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?
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
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.)
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.
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?
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?
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].
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 
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.
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.
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.
people were Klansmen, weren't they?
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.
a local plant?
local plant, Binswanger Mirror Company.
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.
does Compress do?
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].
wife is? Her name?
Long: And she
was born in Carroll County on June 16, 1950.
What was her family name?
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.
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
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.
Long: And what
you are to do, what you will do for your whole family. I thank
man. Yes, sir. I thank you.
(End of the interview.)