Stephanie Scull Millet
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.
Mr. Bilbo Rodgers was born
November 14, 1924, in Louisville, Mississippi; he is one of
nine children born to his parents, who were sharecroppers
on a plantation in the Mississippi Delta. As a child, Mr.
Rodgers helped work the cotton fields, tend the garden and
feed the animals that fed his family. When his father died,
Mr. Rodgers was a 14-year-old who shouldered adult responsibilities.
In 1943, when he was eighteen
years old, Mr. Rodgers joined the Army, took basic training
in New Orleans, then went to Europe with the 490 Port Battalion.
All of the military was still segregated at that time. Mr.
Rodgers worked in Liverpool, England, for ten months dispersing
supplies to the Allied forces. Around the time of D-Day,
Mr. Rodgers spent some time
in the foxholes of France.
When Mr. Rodgers returned to
the United States, he finished his last two years of high
school. He moved to Pascagoula where he began a career at
International Paper Company that spanned thirty-five years.
He is married and has seven children.
Church school 8
Truck patch 9
World War II 13
Basic training 14
Liverpool, England 15
Back to the segregated States
State of African-American schools
Medgar Evers 29
Charles Evers 31
Integrating the schools 34
International Paper Company
Freedom Summer, 1964 43
AN ORAL HISTORY
This is an interview for
the Civil Rights Documentation Project. The interview is with
Mr. Bilbo Rodgers and is taking place on May 26, 2000, in
Moss Point, Mississippi. The interviewer is Stephanie Scull
is an interview for the Civil Rights Documentation Project
of Tougaloo College and The University of Southern Mississippi.
The interview is with Mr. Bilbo Rodgers, and it is taking
place on May 26, 2000, in Moss Point, Mississippi. The interviewer
is Stephanie Scull Millet. And first I'd like to thank you,
Mr. Rodgers, for taking time to talk with me today. And I'd
like to get some background information from you, which is
what we usually do, and ask you: could you tell me for the
record, your name and where and when you were born, please?
I'm Bilbo Rodgers. I was born in Louisville, Mississippi,
November 13, 1924. Mm-hm.
do you have brothers and sisters?
you name them for me?
My older brother is named Lawrence Rodgers, one named R.L.
Rodgers, and I have a brother named Robert Rodgers, and that's
the only brothers I have. And I have sisters, Rosie Rodgers[?],
at that time. And Ruthie Mae Rodgers[?], at that time. And
named Willie Mae Rodgers[?], and Linnie B. Rodgers[?], and
Hattie Ruth Rodgers[?]. Is that five girls? Four girls?
see. One, two, three, four, five. Five. Is Linnie a girl?
five girls and three boys. Four counting you.
where did you fall in there? Were you the oldest? Or youngest?
had two brothers older than me, and one sister older than
were kind of right in the middle.
in the middle. (Laughter.)
tell me something about your parents. What is your mother's
name? And if you can recall, when and where was your mother
was also born in Louisville, Mississippi. Louisville, Mississippi.
any idea what year?
close as I can get, she must have been born in 1902.
is she still alive? Your mother?
dead, now. She died in fifty-eight.
So, let's see, that would have made her?
I believe so.
rather young, actually.
It's young. Sure is.
what about your father? Can you remember approximately what
year and where he was born?
was born in Louisville, Mississippi, and he was born in, I
believe it was 1898. He was born in the eighteen-hundreds.
I believe it was 1898.
I would imagine he's not still with us in the year 2000.
He's not. He died young. He died in 1938.
how old were you when he died?
died four days before I was fourteen years old. I would have
been fourteen on November 13. He died on the ninth of November,
so, your mother, then, had small children and was a single
mother for some time?
right. At that time.
raise the kids?
raise the kids.
awesome. That's an awesome responsibility.
have those children.
we grew up without a father after I was about fourteen. I
was fourteen years old.
When your father died, were the older boys in the family able
to kind of take over?
They helped, because they was older, and they kind of halfway
got out on their own. In fact, after my daddy died, I was
just about the oldest boy at home, and I wasn't but fourteen,
but I had to really take up a whole lot of responsibilities
at fourteen. But you know, they kind of helped out. But they
were older; they kind of got out on their own. You know. My
older brother was seven years older than me. He was twenty-one,
and he had kind of got out in the world for himself.
his own life, by then.
own life. That's right. So, I was just about the oldest boy
left at home at that time because the two older brothers was
on their own.
did your father make a living before he passed away?
was a farmer. He was a farmer.
he own his own land?
that was in Louisville?
Louisville, Mississippi, and later on, we moved to the Delta.
We moved to Inverness, Mississippi, and Indianola. Right in
that area. And we farmed there, also.
were you sharecropping on a plantation?
on a plantation.
so, what was your childhood like? Did you work in the fields?
Did you have chores?
in the field. And we picked cotton. Chopped cotton. And sometimes,
when I got bigger, I plowed. You know. And also, we had chores
like, we had cows; milked cows. Feed the hogs. Had chickens
and all that stuff. You know. And we had to gather wood because
we had old wood heaters and a fireplace and whatever. We had
all that to do. We had plenty of chores to do, besides the
farm, like milking the cows, and feeding the hogs, feeding
the chickens, getting wood, and getting water, because we
didn't have inside water like we do now. We had to go to the
spring or well or pump or whatever. And most of the times
it was a spring somewhere nearby. We'd go down there and get
our buckets and pails and bring the water to the house. You
know. And it was kind of difficult. Things like it is now,
you can just turn on a faucet. So, it was really kind of tough
back in that time. You know. In those years.
What was a typical day like? How early did you get up?
got up around maybe six o'clock in the morning. You know.
it when daylight was coming?
about daybreak. And we got us maybe a little breakfast and
all that and maybe about seven o'clock we was in the field,
working. You know. Chopping cotton, picking cotton.
by hand. It was kind of hard work. We'd work until maybe about
eleven-thirty or twelve o'clock. Then we'd go home and eat.
Got to get a little lunch, and by one o'clock, we was back
out in the fields again, and working, again.
maybe, sundown. Because we worked all day. Wasn't no such
thing as working eight hours then. We worked all day, and
might as well say, "from sun to sun."
an early night's sleep and next day, get back and do the same
if you were having to work in the cotton field from sunup
to sundown, what would then happen to the cows who needed
to be milked, and the pigs that needed to be fed? And maybe
you had a garden for vegetables that you ate?
someone have to start working in the field and go do that
and then go back to the field? How did that work?
my mother, she always stopped, maybe an hour or something
like that, and go cook. You know. Cook dinner or lunch for
us. Prepare for the other part of the family. And maybe we
would stop and milk the cows, maybe thirty minutes ahead of
time, before sundown. Maybe we'd stop and milk the cows, and
feed the hogs and chickens and all that, maybe. It would last
about an hour or something like that.
it gave you about thirty minutes of light to get your chores
Get those chores done. Got to hurry up and get them done.
Milk the cows, feed the hogs, and get some wood.
when you were going to school, then, did you get to go to
school for the full term?
why would your term be shortened?
of the harvest time. Farming, you know, gathering the crops.
After we farmed, we're going to finish up crops maybe about
the last of October or sometime in November before we finish
up. Maybe the average kid would be starting back to school
in September; we don't get back maybe till about the last
of October, the first of November, something like that. That
cut our school time short. Mm-hm. So, you don't really go
to full term.
And how does that compare with other students? For example,
the Caucasian students? Were they going to school for the
go full term because they didn't really do the farming. Mostly,
you know, they didn't do much farming like we did. Not, especially,
kids. They didn't do too much farming. So, they put the farming
off. You know. We had to farm. They really made us farm.
education was cut short, then?
that you could work in the cotton fields.
do you have any sense of how the person who owned the farm
treated your mother and your [family]? Do you think he was
fair in giving them credit for the cotton that they did raise?
Or do you have any sense of that at all?
don't really think it's fair. You know. I don't really think.
I don't think they gave them--. We made a living at it. You
know. But I don't think it's really fair because, you know,
we had to take their word for everything. For instance, we'd
go to them for whatever we needed across the year for the
expense of the farm, and they jotted it down, and we'd take
their word for it, at the end of the year, how much we had
made and what they--. We didn't have nothing to do with selling
the cotton or whatever, because they sold it and told us whatever,
you know, our income were. And they taken out the expense
of what, you know, we used across the year, food and clothing
or whatever, and sometimes I think they cut us short. I mean,
honest opinion, I think they did cheat a little bit on us.
you didn't get a copy, actually, of the records that they
just added up what you had on credit, and then, you had to
take their word--
what you had made, what the profit was.
it would have been very easy for them to shortchange you.
sure would. And I think they did. I sure think they did.
a hard life.
you have any happy memories of childhood?
yeah. You know. We had family get-togethers. We had a lot
of fun doing different things out there on the farm. We went
to church and whatever. We had a pretty nice little life,
like that. Some memories.
church did your parents go to?
went to a Baptist church. Had one pretty nearby the community,
there. And we always went to church meeting on Sunday. Probably
didn't go but once a week, maybe. We always went on Sunday.
All the children go, and the parents go to church on Sunday.
We practiced that, and that was happy. Sometimes we'd go to
town on Saturday evening, after, you know.
was that like? Going into town?
go into town. We'd get, you know, ice cream and have cold
drinks and whatever. Probably didn't get them but once a week.
It's not like it is now. You had to go eat that ice cream.
We thought that was fun to go to town on Saturday evening.
You'd knock off at twelve o'clock maybe on Saturdays on the
if you were working in the field, you would only work till
to noon on Saturday. Everybody would be looking forward to
going to town on Saturday evening, you know, just about once
a week. We'd go and get ice cream, and drinks, and all this
stuff. And we thought we was doing something, then. You know.
was a special--.
A very special time.
Getting away from the farm, you know. We thought that was
really something exciting. So, that was one of the things
that was real good. You know. We enjoyed that. And like I
said, going to church on Sunday and whatever. [Mr. Rodgers'
daughter, Julia Holmes, takes his keys from his hand.] (Laughter.)
My keys. OK. Alright.
thinking. That was good thinking.
where did you attend school? Do you remember the names of
the schools that you went to when you were a child?
at that time, they didn't have too many schools. We went to
school in one-room shacks at that time and out in the Delta,
most of us, some of the churches--and they were little, small
churches--we went to school in churches. We didn't have no--.
went to school in churches?
Probably just one room. You know. Didn't have no big church
like they do. You know.
Millet: A one-room
That was back in the, maybe, thirties or whatever. And we'd
have the heater in there, and all the children gathered around
the heater on little benches and just didn't have the big
schools. Not in my early [years]. But when I finished high
school. I did finish high school after I came out of the Army.
And they had a pretty nice school here.
finished high school after serving in the
coming out of the service. Mm-hm. I finished eleventh and
twelfth grade after I came out of the service.
year did you begin school?
see. I was young. I can't remember what year it was. Let's
see. I was born in 1924. I must have started about thirty-one,
about 1931, probably.
that was the time of the Great Depression, wasn't it?
was. It was 1931 or somewhere along there. It was Depression
during that time. Thirty-one and thirty-two. That was known
for real hard times at that time.
you all have enough to eat, when you were little, during the
yeah. Well, I'd say enough to get by with, anyway.
to get by with?
didn't have abundance. It was mostly what we raised on the
farm. You know.
what was that? What was the typical--I think, now, they would
call it a truck crop or a truck patch. What did you grow to
For things to eat, we'd grow potatoes, and maybe greens, collard
greens or turnip greens or whatever. And then peanuts. And
we'd grow cane and made syrup out of it. Molasses. I mean,
you might know about it. But anyway, and we grew corn. You
know. Carried that to the mill for cornbread. You know. Grind
it up for cornbread. And grew cotton, also. But we sold that
to pay our bills with.
get money. To get cash. That was the cash crop?
was the cash crop.
you. But the other stuff was for you to consume?
We had tomatoes and what have you. And we'd grow chickens
for our--. Kill a chicken. Like we'd have chicken meat. You
chickens. Eggs. And cows had milk; furnished us our milk and
butter. And hogs were our meat, and also had lard. You know.
When you take the fat of the hog and cook it into lard.
could probably make soap?
right. Sure could.
your mother make her own soap?
made her lye soap. Because lye soap, you take that grease
and all that and make lye soap.
My grandmother did that.
And washed dishes, we used that soap. They had an old wash
pot. They boiled the clothes back then. If you get dirty,
the next day, now, you've got the washing machine. They boiled
those clothes. Went out there by the spring and made a fire
underneath that wash pot and fill it up with water and boil
them and take them out. Had an old rub board. You've got to
rub them real good and get all that dirt out of them. Hang
on the line. Let them dry. And to iron, you know, they didn't
have an electric iron, then. They had to take the iron and
put it by the fire and let it get hot. Then, clean it off
and then they'd iron the clothes. You know. Much different
than it is, now.
it sounds like you might have needed more than one iron, so
you could have one heating up while using the other one.
right. Sometimes, some people had as many as four. You know.
Because, like you say, have some heating up while--. You really
needed two, but sometimes people had as many as four.
Millet: I wonder
if that's what they mean when they say, "You have too many
irons in the fire."
I think that's really what they're saying. Really. I think
that's what they're really saying, there.
did the churning in your house to get that butter from the
of the kids. I did it a lot of times, myself.
wasn't restricted to just your sisters?
No. It was some of us, also.
mother was an equal opportunity employer. (Laughter.)
Right. Make everybody work some. (Laughter.)
what did that pot look like, that you boiled the clothes in?
a big, old, black pot made of steel, I guess, and, you know,
it'll hold a lot of clothes. It's got little legs on it. You
know. And the legs hold it high enough off the ground so you
can [put] wood around it, up under it, and all that. And you
make a fire, and really boil them clothes, and get the dirt
out of them, too. Them clothes would be clean.
did they get the clothes out of that boiling water?
had a big, old stick, that kind of looked like a paddle. They'd
take it and go down under them, and pick them clothes up;
let them drain, and put them off in that tub of water. Cold
Put over in the cold water.
they're too hot to handle when they come out of the pot.
too hot to handle. They put it over in that tub of cold water,
and you know, that's where they get cold at. And then you
take that rub board and kind of rub and finish getting that
dirt out because that hot water done already loosened that
dirt up, and you can easily get it out with that rub board.
I don't know whether you're familiar with a rub board, or
does a rub board look like?
it's a big, old thing made of wood and got tin and kind of
got roughness on it to make it kind of rough where you make
it kind of hard to get that, you know--. Kind of make it--.
you rub the clothes against the ridges of the tin?
To get that dirt out.
probably hard on your hands.
is kind of hard. That's the way we had to do it, back in those
then, was there lye soap in the boiling water?
They did have lye soap in there. That was kind of hard, but
once they get it out, they put it in that cold water, it made
it kind of diluted more, and it's not too bad on your hands.
Ah. Lye is caustic. It burns.
That's right. Right. Once you get it in that cold water, it
kind of dilutes that lye, which it won't be so strong on your
then you probably had to rinse it.
it about a couple of waters after you get it out of the washing.
somebody had to tote that water.
of the water that was used in this process had to be carried.
to be carried. That's right. So, everything, it wasn't near
as convenient as they are now. Everything was much harder.
Had to carry the water to fill up the tubs and all that. Pails.
you say that you felt you played an important role in your
family at that time? You had duties that we would now think
belonged to an adult. But in your childhood, you were a part
of making the family survive.
right. It's a part of it.
wasn't just busy work.
played a big part in it. It was really necessary.
necessary because, you know, it had to be done. You had to
make it. That's the way you made a living, like I said, on
that farm. In fact, you raised most of your food on that farm.
Like I said, we raised chickens, hogs, and all kinds of vegetables,
tomatoes, peanuts, greens, and beans, and whatever. All kinds
you had food to eat, even during the depression.
had, in the depression, had food.
in cities might have been going hungry because they had no
money, but no garden, either.
even though money was scarce at that time,--.
would have food.
all had food.
you worked. But now, work, back at that time, you had some
people, you had some lazy farmers. Farmers who wouldn't get
out, who wouldn't work. Now, if you get out and don't work
that farm, you can easily not have enough food. Some people
wouldn't even have a cow, because they were too lazy to get
up and milk them and do whatever was necessary. But a good
farmer would get out there and plant everything on that farm
and raise everything to eat, have his cows, chickens, hogs
and everything; he made a good living. But a lazy farmer,
that just didn't have enough get-up about him to do all that,
he had less, you know, less food because he didn't quite have
enough. But you've got to really be kind of smart, you know,
to get up and do the work.
have to have some motivation.
That's right. That's the word for it.
right. You couldn't get up, and it's hot, and sit under a
shade tree and make a living on the farm, you've got to get
up and work. And that's what we did. They made us work. Whether
we wanted to do it or not. (Laughter.) And I'm glad of it.
I learned how to work at an early age. You know. And after
I got off the farm, I knew how to work. You know. I made a
pretty good living. Yeah.
You knew what you could do.
right. I knew you had to work to make a living; wasn't nobody
going to give you nothing. (Laughter.) I knew that. I went
Well, tell me about how you got into the military.
yeah. I was eighteen when I went in, in 1943.
War II. Taken my basic training in New Orleans in 1943 in
was basic training like?
you get out there and you--. They train you how to use your
rifles. You know. Then calisthenics. You run and keep yourself
in shape and exercise. All kinds of exercises. Then you go
through an obstacle course, all this kind of heavy--. Go over
big things and go under pipes. And it's rough. You know. Just
getting in shape. You know. And training how to do all those
things and training how to use the gas mask in case the enemy
uses gas on you. If you've got a gas mask on, it'll protect
you from, you know, getting into your nose, mouth or whatever.
Then they train you how to use your guns and how to protect
yourself from the enemies' guns. And they train you in so
many different things. You know. Physical fitness and whatever,
and that's where we taken our training in New Orleans for
thirteen weeks. Right in New Orleans, they showed us how to
do all that.
Now, were there both black and white people in your basic
Segregated. Nothing but black.
were all African-American?
would they call your brigade or troop or battalion?
Mm-hm. I was in the 490 Battalion.
490 Battalion. Mm-hm.
then, what happened after basic training?
we goes on to Charleston, South Carolina, and that's where
we went through further training. You know. After basic training,
you get more liberty. You know. Everything gets a little bit
lighter. You know. You still train, but you don't train quite
as hard and you get more liberty to go to town, and you know,
do a lot more things. You know. But on that thirteen weeks
of training out there in New Orleans, we didn't do nothing
but just train. Didn't have too much liberty to go to town
or whatever. But once you get out of basic training, it's
a different kind of training, but not quite as hard, or as
rough on you. But we did train and not only that, I was in
the port battalion, 490 Port Battalion. We had to do some
work in Charleston, South Carolina, because a lot of boats--.
Our job was, in the port battalion, was to load and unload
boats, and in New Orleans, we loaded boats there to go overseas.
And they'd go to England and different places. They were getting
ready for another invasion over there. We was preparing for
that. We loaded shells, bombs, food, clothing, and everything
that you use in the Army. You know, guns and whatever. They
shipped them overseas to fighting men. They was already fighting
overseas at that time. And that was our job was to load and
unload ships. So, now, after we left New Orleans, or left
Charleston, South Carolina, we went to Newport News, Virginia,
and that's where we sailed. We sailed from Newport News, Virginia,
in 1943 in August, and we went to Liverpool, England. We sailed.
It taken us fifteen days to cross the Atlantic Ocean. We ran
into a storm out there; we should have did it in twelve.
you get seasick?
a long time to be on a boat when you're seasick. (Laughter.)
fifteen days to cross the Atlantic Ocean. Yeah. And we got
to Liverpool, England, on September 4. It was on Saturday.
We got off that Sunday, and they put me on guard that night
with an empty rifle. And I was scared. (Laughter.)
empty rifle, and I was scared. Because, you know, the English
people, even the police don't carry no gun. They don't carry
no guns in England. They didn't carry nothing but a flashlight
and a nightstick. That's all they carried. Therefore, we couldn't.
You know the laws of England.
didn't want you to have bullets in your gun.
bullets. But if you go to France or Germany, you can. Which
we finally did. After we left England, we stayed in Liverpool,
England for ten months, unloading ships that were coming from
the United States. Well, we were loading them in South Carolina,
but when we got to Liverpool, we was unloading some of the
ships that was coming from the states into England because
they was stocking up stockpiles getting ready for the invasion.
Now, once we got all the stuff
loaded in England, then we were getting ready to go to France.
And you might have heard talk of D-Day. That's the invasion
June 6, 1944, the invasion of Europe, they call D-Day. And
that's when they had the big thing come off, so many people
got killed. They had 31,000 airplanes invaded France coming
over from England and different places in the Allied nations.
Take England was one of our allies, you know, and we had all
our stuff piled up there, but when we got ready for the invasion,
we taken all the stuff from England and went over in France
to hit the Germans. That's where we hit the Germans at, in
France. Because they had already taken over France. So, we
had to run them out of France and run them back into, you
were you a foot soldier?
I was still in the port battalion. I was unloading the ships
there in France. Unloading guns, trucks, and ammunition, food,
medical supplies, all that, in France after I got there.
Millet: I see.
we still was involved in battle, because they were shooting
at us, trying to get us. I didn't pull off my shoes in three
weeks, because they didn't allow you to pull them off, because
you might have to run at any time.
my goodness. You had to sleep in your shoes.
to sleep in your shoes. And we was in France; we slept in
foxholes. I don't know whether you're familiar with it, but
anyway, you dig a hole down in the ground about four feet,
and you get down there, you and your partner. You've got one
people in one hole?
people in one hole. Foxhole, and dirt falling all in your
face and all that, but you did have your--. You kept your
gun and your gas mask with you at all times. And your mess
gear; that's your food, something you carry your food in,
and they called it, "mess kit." Because, you know, you always
carried that with you; that's three things you carried with
you, and your helmet. Your steel hat. You know. To protect
your head against a bullet or whatever might--.
Did they tell you what kind of gas you might have to face?
You know. Why you would need a gas mask. Did they tell you
it would be chlorine or mustard or tear gas?
mustard, I believe, was one of them. And chlorine, I believe,
was another one. Because that gas would, you know, like I
said, it would kill you, if you didn't have that gas mask
on. They tested us out a lot of times. They put us in a gas--.
They had that gas kind of chamber. And a lot of times they'd
let you go in there, especially when you were training, they
let you go in there with your gas mask, and you've got to
take your gas mask out of your pouch, inside the place where
the gas is, and you have to hold your breath until you get
that thing on you. You practice that just in case they have
an attack there. You're in the gas chamber; a chamber with
gas in there, and it will kill you. You've got to go in your
pouch, and get your gas mask and put it on your head, without
breathing any of that gas into you.
if you get in trouble, you have to trust the person who is
outside to help you and get you out of there.
you. Get you out of it. So, you've got to do it in a hurry.
They train you to do that. Just in case you have an attack,
you know what to do.
your compadres, the people who are with you, you all relied
on each other to save each other's lives.
each other. That's right. In case you had a problem or get
when you got to Europe, were you still in a segregated battalion?
England and in France?
you tell any difference in the way natives treated you as
an African-American in Europe as opposed to in this country?
think they treated us a little better.
Millet: A little
I don't know why. Sometimes, I think it might have been the
reason because we came over there to help them. They were
in trouble. You know. The Germans had really bombed them out,
and you know, really taken over, and we came over to aid them.
But still in all, they did treat us better. We were more integrated
there, you know, than we were--.
you feel more welcome, like, in public places?
You did. You were better in those countries: England and France.
Now, England, they were more like Americans in that they spoke
the same language as Americans did, in England. Mm-hm. But
in France, you know, it's a different language. But they all
were nice to us.
did you communicate in a different language? What was that
it's kind of hard because a lot of times you can't talk, and
you've got to try to give signs and whatever. You know. (Laughter.)
And you might could speak; you know a few words because they
teach you how to say the most important words about, like,
you need food, or you're hungry. "Good day." You know, how
to speak them: "Bonjour, monsieur." That means, "Good day,
mister." Or mademoiselle. That's a lady. And monsieur is a
man and work [is] travail. You know. Just different words
you ordinarily use. And you know how to use all those words.
And they teach you to use all those words. And basically,
you talk with them, and you learn more words when you talk
along with them, you know, a lot of times. But a lot of times,
you wind up giving a lot of signs. (Laughter.) You don't know
what they're saying, and they don't know what you're saying.
You wind up giving a lot of signs. You know. But they did.
Basically, you know some of the words. I could speak a little
of it. I stayed there in France nineteen months, and I learned
how to speak a few words.
months in France.
what happened at the end of those nineteen months?
that's when the Americans dropped them two bombs in Japan,
at the end of the war.
atomic bombs. Two bombs. They dropped one in Nagasaki. I believe
that was the first one. And Iwo Jima. And after that, Japan
surrendered unconditionally. But the war was already over
in Germany. I think it was over in 1945 or four. President
Roosevelt died, I believe it was. He did die when I was in
France. President Roosevelt died, and I think the war was
over in Germany just after that.
you pull out right away or were you still in Europe for a
we were staying there a while because we thought we might
have to go over in Japan to fight, and I was so glad when
they dropped them two bombs.
you didn't have to go?
because I didn't have to go. And after that, after Japan fell,
they said, "Well, y'all can go home, now." Man, I was glad.
I was twenty-one years old, then. I was glad to get out of
that was at a time when you couldn't register to vote until
you were twenty-one. When I registered to vote, it was eighteen.
But at that time, you wouldn't have tried to register to vote
prior to going to war.
By no means, because I don't think they would even consider.
You know. Especially an African-American. They would not consider
him no kind of way.
Mm-hm. Do you know if your parents tried to register to vote?
don't think so. I don't really think they would have.
you try to register to vote after you returned from--?
what was that like? How old were you?
I was twenty-one when I came out of the service, and that's
about--. Well, I came down here when I was about twenty-four.
When I came down to Pascagoula, and that's when I started
registering to vote.
I'm going to circle [question number] twenty-four and come
back to that: voter registration. But tell me about coming
back home from Europe. What was that like? Did you come on
a bus? Did you wear your uniform? How did you get back in
school? What was it like to come back from World War II?
War II. Well, I got back from World War II; I came back into
New York. And saw the Statue of Liberty, there. What you always
show. That Statue of Liberty in New York. The lady with the
lamp in her hand. I got there on December 30. I spent Christmas
forty-five on a boat coming this way from LeHavre, France,
to New York.
was in 1945. I spent Christmas of forty-five on the boat,
traveling, coming to the United States, and I got to New York
City on the thirtieth of December, 1945. And I left there
and went to Camp Kilmer[?] that same night by train. We got
to Camp Kilmer, New Jersey, and we stayed there about two
days. And that's when we got a train coming in to Camp Shelby,
was it like on the train from New York to New Jersey?
it was a long ride. You know. (Laughter.) It takes about three
days, I believe. Well, about three days; two or three days,
maybe. You know, troop trains were traveling slow. A bunch
of troops on there.
were you still in segregated battalions at that time?
in segregated battalions. Mm-hm.
even from New York to New Jersey on the train, you were in
did you feel about that? What was that like for you?
at that time, I didn't--. You know. I felt pretty good about
it because I wasn't used--. You know. I didn't know nothing
about--. Well, I was young. And I thought--. I know, I didn't
think they were treated as good as the Caucasians were. I
don't think they were.
could tell that they were being treated better?
you tell me why? Were there specific things that made you
our facilities. We had living quarters, and all that. I think
they were better. You know. Everybody visited around, seeing
what's going on. Seemed like they had better living quarters
or whatever. We had pretty decent, but it wasn't up to par.
It was just enough to kind of get by on. So, that's one thing.
You know. And a lot of places, they could go in there, like
I said, we couldn't go in. Like restaurants or whatever.
the United States?
did you find it the same way in Europe? Or were public accommodations--?
it was just about the same in Europe.
could go just about anywhere, you know, you wanted to, at
that time. But in the United States, when we got here, they
got to go to the side door or go to the back door or whatever.
You can't go in to--.
you had been in Europe, putting your life on the line to defend--
in the United States. Stop the spread of the Nazis, and when
you got home, you were not given equal opportunities in many
Got to go to the back. Got to go to the back. You got to go
to the side. Either go to the back or side; they've got a
little place for the blacks. White only; colored only, whatever.
And not only that, we had drinking fountains that was--.
Restrooms. Whatever. Even on the jobs. After I got back and
started working. Even here in Moss Point. We didn't have the
same drinking fountain. They do, now, after civil rights and
all that. But at that time, we had different drinking fountains.
Had drinking fountains marked, "White only." Restrooms, "White
only." So, you know, they got a special place for that. Not
only that, we had our jobs. You take, for instance, our jobs
was segregated when I got back here. They had "black only"
And "white only" jobs.
only" jobs. And naturally, they gave the blacks the worst
jobs. The jobs that they didn't want to do.
hardest, the dirtiest.
hardest, the dirtiest. They gave it.
They were taking advantage of them. You know. They had the
advantage, and they used it.
Right. So, that's what happened.
was it like to arrive at Camp Shelby? And to disembark there.
I was happy. (Laughter.)
Been away from home three years. And, you know.
were ready to get home.
was ready to get home. Hadn't seen my mother in three years
and all that. You know. And my little sisters, brothers, and
all that. I was just happy to get back, you know, at that
time. Mm-hm. I was glad to get back.
you have any close calls when you were--?
yeah. I didn't think I would make it back to the United States.
thought I was going to be killed. One Saturday night, I was
out there. Like I said, I was in the port battalion, unloading
ships. We was out there one night on Saturday night. It must
have been about ten o'clock, and we was unloading gasoline,
in five-gallon cans. In a boat loaded with five-gallon cans
of gasoline, and a German plane come in there from out of
nowhere, and dropped a bomb out there and just missed us.
And I knew if one spark of that bomb would hit that ship,
we'd have been blowed up. And, Lord! I was scared. Everybody
was scared. Wooh! I was trembling after it was all over. I
was shaking about thirty minutes after it happened. Everybody
on the boat was scared. Well, it was dangerous. You know.
That was a close call.
And not only that, you're out there on that ship. The Germans
would sneak in at night and drop land mines out in the water,
and those land mines would, if they happened to hit the ship,
they would blow it up. So, the United States was smart enough
to recognize. A lot of times. They had such a thing they called
a mine sweeper. A little, old light boat would go around and
check and knock them land mines out. The detonator. I can't
call his name, but anyway, they would knock out or defuse
or whatever. You know. Yeah. With the radar, they would search
for those land mines, and they will defuse them.
So, they didn't actually blow up, but they--.
they would have if they had've hit them. If they hadn't had
that little boat. And another thing the Germans didn't have
that we had, and that's a bomb sight.
what is that?
sight. The United States had a bomb sight, when they dropped
that bomb, that's like a sight on a gun. They can hit their
target better. And the Germans didn't have it.
were having to just eyeball it.
They just had to hit it anywhere they think. But if they had
had that bomb sight, we wouldn't have stood a chance in France.
God for that.
God for that. We'd have been gone.
another thing that we had, helped us out. After we got over
there and got situated, we got search lights. It's a light
way over here [gesturing]; a great, big, strong light. It's
a light over there. [Gesturing.] And when a German plane come
in there, that we can hear. "Wu, wu, wu, wu." We'd know it
was the sound of a German plane; they sounded different from
ours. That light would go up on this side, and the light would
come up on this side; if they catch him in that crossfire,
that light, two lights: one way on the other side. Two lights
that come together and they catch that German plane in that
cross and that big 90 mm. gun we've got on the shore, [snaps
finger] shoot right in that cross, and knock him out. And
you ought to see that plane try to get out of that light.
He knew he was in there. He knew we had him in there and the
lights were moving to keep him in that cross and that 90 mm.
would knock him out. And that helped us out a lot.
you realized how close you had come to being killed, do you
think that had an effect on the rest of your life? Did it
change you, somehow?
think it did. I think so.
you put that into words? I know that would be hard to put
into words, but--
kind of hard to put into words, but anyway, it kind of affects
your life. You know. I don't really know how to put it into
words, but it did affect me.
it made life seem more important, and you wouldn't take it
for granted so much?
That's right. I tell you. Because we run into some tough situations
over there. I tell you. Now, a lot of people said they got
cut off from the food supply, and they went hungry two or
three days, but we didn't. But we were working with the port
battalion; we always had food to distribute out to other folks.
So, we didn't have that problem. That's a problem we didn't
have. Because we always had food because we was the ones to
haul it to the other fighting men. So, we kept plenty. We
always had plenty food, but we was in danger, also, because--.
I've got two battle stars--one for southern and northern France
because we was right in the battle. Because, see, they was
trying to knock us out. They was shooting at us, because,
like I say--.
were the supply line.
supply line. If you cut the supply line off, you've got, you
You isolate the troops.
right. So, we were right in the thick of the fight, really.
So, I got two battle stars, one for southern France and northern
France. Two battle stars.
And I was a good soldier. I never got an AWOL. I got a Good
Conduct Medal. I got six hash marks[?]. I've got several things.
You know. I was a good soldier. I never went to the jailhouse
stockade, or nothing. You know.
I owe you some gratitude for having this free country that
I grew up in.
Millet: I appreciate
I tell you. That Army life was something. You know. Like I
decided not to re-enlist? (Laughter.)
decided I didn't want any more of it. I had enough of it.
(Laughter.) But I thought about it a lot of times, though.
After the war was over, maybe that's the time I should have
stayed in there.
thought about it after I got out. I said, "Maybe I should
have stayed on in there." I said, "The war is over with. I
was in there during the worst three years." And when the war
was over, I could have stayed on in there and made a career
out of it. I would have been drawing money, you know, for
it. Mm-hm. I thought about that after I got out. I had a brother-in-law
who stayed in there. My wife's brother, he stayed in there
twenty-six years, and he's still drawing money from that.
And I said, "Maybe I should have stayed on in there after
the war was over with." And, "I stayed in there the worst
part, and got out after it got easy." You know. Once it got
dad did. My dad was in Europe in World War II, but he died
when I was thirteen. So, I don't know that much about where
he was, but the ironic thing is, you know, that he did stay
in the Air Force, and he died about five months after he retired.
you just never know.
don't never know. That's right. How many years did he stay
Millet: I don't
know how many years you have to have to retire. Maybe twenty
years is a minimum, I think. I think it's a minimum of twenty
And who knows? You know, maybe he would have lived longer
if he hadn't re-enlisted.
have. You don't really know.
You really don't know.
is like that.
then they say, "Hindsight is twenty, twenty." (Laughter.)
When you're looking back, you see everything so clearly.
see everything when you're looking back. So, I tell you.
some people have reported that when they were in uniform in
Mississippi on public transportation, that kind of singled
them out as a target, [of] the white supremists, KKK kind
of white power that was entrenched here. People actually were
beaten up just for wearing their uniforms home from World
you didn't have that experience?
never did experience that. No, I never did experience that.
tell me about getting back into high school, then, after you
were a man of the world. By the time you got back. But you
decided to finish high school?
after I got back, and I'm a veteran. You know, I'm back, and
they allow you to go to school. They pay you to go to school.
They give you, in other words, so much a month for your support
to go to school. And I gets out of service, and no good job
nowhere up in Mississippi where I worked. That was around
Newton County in Decatur, Mississippi. Newton County. And
the only thing they had was a little farming and a little
saw milling and they allowed you a chance to go back to school.
And they would pay you for it. So, I goes just two years and
finished high school in Newton--.
(End of tape one, side one.
The interview continues on tape one, side two.)
Graduated in 1948 in April?
forty-eight in April. I think there was about fifty-six in
that's a pretty big class for that time. I would think.
tell me about going to school. It was definitely segregated;
you were in an all-black school.
you feel like you got a good education?
fair. I think fair for high school. I think it's pretty fair.
I was pretty smart in school. I didn't study as hard as I
should have. I have to admit. If I had studied harder, I believe
I could have did better. But I didn't really study hard, but
I should have. But I didn't. But I was pretty smart in school.
I was pretty smart.
you ever compare your state as a student with the white schools?
Did you think about that and make a comparison when you were
either in elementary, or middle school, or high school?
I made a comparison. They had much better chances than we
did. Back when I was going to school, before I even went to
high school, we had to walk to school. You know. Like I said,
we went to different churches or whatever. We didn't have
no big schools back in that day. Learning was much different
than it is now. And we had to walk. Sometimes we had to walk
four or five miles to get to that little church or the school,
where we was going to school. You know.
long would that take you?
maybe an hour and a half or something like that. You know.
And in the meantime, the white children or Caucasians or whatever,
they had school buses. They had school buses. They could pass
by us on the school bus while we were walking. And they had
much better heating. Better schooling, too. Because they had
better heat and everything. A lot of times we had to go to
school and make a fire. Cold. Whew. Froze and walking. You
know, it was really cold.
you had to make the fire.
And it's cold up there, too. You know. Your feet cold, hands
cold. Little children. You know. And got to go there and make
a fire. Didn't have nobody, no janitor or nobody to make it.
did you get the wood?
they had somebody they called trustees at that time, and they
would haul wood to the school and pile it up there. And they
would--. But you had to make your own fire. They should have
had somebody to make a fire for the little children, because
a lot of them had to walk a long ways and they were cold,
but they had to make a fire. And tried to do the best they
can. You know. It was just tough back in them days. Like I
said, it was right after the Depression. You know. I was a
young boy, and maybe in the early forties. The last of the
thirties, and early forties, and all that. Like I said, I
didn't go into the Army until forty-three, but it was rough
back then. Before the war.
What did you do after high school?
high school, what did I do? I was--. Well, I worked a while
around Decatur, Mississippi, in the college. They got a college.
What was that, J.C.? What was the name of that college? Anyway,
I worked there, helping them around on the farm, and in different
places around there, around the college.
did you get paid for [that]? Were you making a wage for that?
got paid. I got paid. But it wasn't much. Such a small amount
till I said, "Well, I don't believe I can hardly make it on
this." And that's when I started searching for a better life
or more money. You know?
that's when I came to the coast. I followed some friends to
you came to the coast what year?
was the last of forty-nine. Must have been about November
forty-nine, I came to Gulfport, Mississippi, and I was a part-time
truck driver. Didn't have a regular job; I was making sixty
cents an hour in 1949, part-time, and, you know, just doing
the best I could. And there wasn't much money. And that's
when I came--. I wasn't doing too good in Gulfport, so, I
came to Pascagoula to go to the trade school. They was giving
a class in brick and plastering in Pascagoula. So, I came
to Pascagoula to get in the brick class, and brick wasn't
available at that time. Didn't have it, but they said, "You
can take up plaster." So I did take up plastering, even though
that wasn't what I wanted. I taken up plastering. And at that
time they was giving us $120 per month to support us, and
that's what I did for fifteen months, after I first got to
Pascagoula in 1950. And after I finished up with that, I got
a job. I went to International Paper Company. The first day
I went out there to get a job, they hired four people, and
I was one of them. I was one of them. And I stayed there thirty-five
first day you went to work, and you were there every working
day after that.
got laid off. The [inaudible].
I stayed there thirty-five years. I stayed there till January
1, eighty-seven. That's when I retired. I've been retired
going on fourteen, about thirteen and a half, right now.
are a survivor.
I tell you. (Laughter.)
tell me about Medgar Evers. You grew up with Medgar Evers.
I went to school [with him].
do you remember about him?
remember Medgar. We went to school together, and also his
sisters and all that. I knew his mother and dad. Medgar, he
was a fine boy. You know. He liked to play ball; he liked
sports. And he was businessman-like. You know. He was real
intelligent, and like I say, he went on to go to school. I
didn't go to college; he went on to college at Alcorn. And
I think he finished college there at Alcorn. And then he went
and got in the civil rights movement.
Yeah. He got into that. He was, I think they call it, a field
you know him then, anymore, as an adult? Or did you kind of
Because he came to the coast a lot of times, after he was
the field secretary for the NAACP. He was all out in the Delta
and all up in different places, you know, across Mississippi,
and he came to the coast a few times, and I talked with him.
He came here and made speeches at churches and different places
like the American Legion and all that. You know.
you attend those speeches when he was here?
I attended them. So, he made speeches and he recognized me.
He said that me and him used to grow up together. You know.
He told people we grew up together, and we used to box and
play ball together, and all that. (Laughter.)
guys used to box each other?
We did. Yeah. We boxed and wrestled and did all the things
little teenagers do. So, he was a nice person. Very intelligent
and he tried to help blacks in the civil rights struggle.
And he helped integrate the beach in Biloxi, too. He did a
lot of things. You know. He helped integrate the beaches.
heard many people say that he was highly intelligent, and
he also had a good heart. He was a feeling person, a feeling
was. That's right. He had a good heart. He tried to help people.
was deeply hurt when horrible acts occurred.
I was on my way to work at International Paper Company, and
I heard the news that morning, say, "Medgar Evers got killed."
I said, "What?!" That was April
12, 1963. I believe it was sixty-three. April. No, June, wasn't
it? June 12, 1963.
it sixty-three? Now, I know that Clyde Kennard died July 4,
1963. Was Medgar killed before that?
believe. It was June 12, I believe, sixty-three. I was on
my way to work, and I heard the news on the radio, I believe
it was. Got shot down at his home in Jackson, Mississippi.
Byron de la Beckwith. Mm-hm. That's right.
Millet: I went
to a few hours of that trial in, I guess it was, ninety-three
a long time to bring him to justice.
time. Whew, yeah. Long time.
Millet: I guess
it's better late than never.
Evers was there, though. It was just so sad.
I tell you. She's a strong person, too. He got shot down.
He was just coming in from a field trip somewhere, and they
shot him down. They were waiting for him when he got in, drove
in the driveway that night. Didn't even get a chance to get
in the house and see his children or nothing. Just shot him
think he died before he got to the hospital. I believe.
Millet: I think
So, I tell you. It's a horrible thing. Then his brother Charles
What do you remember about Charles?
he's a little different from Medgar. You know. He's very intelligent,
too, but he's got more like a business thing. He likes to
get in business and make money and do a lot of things like
that, but he still had a good heart on him, though. Mm-hm.
I think he taken over the same job that Medgar taken over.
He made a pact, I think, with his brother, that if anything
happened to him, which I think they thought might would happen,
you know, he would take over the job. And he did, as a field
secretary. And, he's in Fayette, Mississippi, now. You might
I went to his place there in Fayette.
He had a service station there. He's got quite a few businesses
in Fayette, now. And I bought gas. I was on my way to Alcorn
College, and I passed through Fayette. I had a son graduate
there, at Alcorn. My baby boy. And I used to go by Charles'
place in Fayette, and buy gas from him. I'd stop in and buy
gas from his little service station in Fayette.
Would he be around, so you could talk to him?
be around there. And he'd tell the people, "We go way back."
(Laughter.) "We go way back. Yeah. I remember him. I remember
his mother and all of them." And, you know, he remembers.
He's a nice guy, too. Yeah. And I knew his sisters, also,
you know. Medgar and all his--. Charles and his daddy and
mother. I knew all of them.
would you think Medgar got involved the way he did? Do you
think there was something about his childhood?
I think, being raised in Decatur, Mississippi, which is a
real segregated place, and I think he knew. I think Medgar,
he's pretty aggressive. He tried to go downtown and vote a
lot of times, and they turned him down. And he vowed from
then he was going to work to try to help the black people
do better in life. And I think that's why he got in the civil
rights movement. You know, he was going to say, "Well, I'm
going to try to do something about it. Since I went to Alcorn
College; I got my education. And I think I can help them."
You know. And I think that's what really happened. Because,
like I say, he had a lot of love in his heart. He wanted the
other blacks to do a little better than what they did back
in those days. And he figured he could help them out. And
I think he realized the danger. He realized the danger. Because
I heard some of the children talking. They interviewed some
of the children after Medgar got killed, and they asked them
what happened the night of the murder. And they said when
they heard the gun shoot, they heard gunfire, they all taken
cover as they were trained to do, by their daddy. Because
he figured, you know, something's going to happen like that.
See, their daddy always trained them to get on the floor.
Get low, and take cover. And that's what they did. They got
down as they were trained to do. So, that lets you know he
was aware that something could happen to him. That the job
he had was a dangerous job, back at that time.
He was courageous.
He was courageous. And I met Charles. He came down several
times after Medgar died, and he was talking about--.
would make speeches?
He'd make speeches, and he was talking about how hurt he was
because that was his only brother. His only brother. His only
brother (inaudible). And he said it was hard, but he still
avowed to try to take his place. Mm-hm. And he also said--.
(Laughter.) I think he kind of carried his gun on with him,
Charles did. He said, "I am not like my brother, now. I am
shoot back. And I tell them one thing." I remember him saying
this in a meeting. He said, "I tell them one thing. If they
ever shoot at me, I tell them they'd better not miss, because
I'm going to get them." (Laughter.) That's what he told them.
Old Charles, he was kind of a little different. He's a nice
guy. He's intelligent, but he said, he wasn't going to lay
down and take it easy. If they shoot at him, he's going to
try, and he's going to shoot back. That's what he said.
Millet: I think
a lot of times that when the African-Americans would arm themselves,
they had to. You know. There was that strategy,
that tactical take on nonviolence because people were so outnumbered
that it had to be nonviolence. It didn't make sense to be
you know, as far as a lot of the people, the rural, local
African-American people who were experiencing drive-by shootings,
and, you know, threats, they slept with their hunting guns
by their beds. You know. And they knew how to use them.
yeah. They knew how to use them.
had to be that way.
to be that way.
they just would have been picked off, one by one.
by one. Right. And so, they had to do that. That's right.
I would have done that. Have to do that, to defend yourself.
right. You've got to try to defend yourself somehow or another.
when you were twenty-four years old, you tried to register
to vote. What was that like?
I went in, and you know, I didn't--. Well, back then, you
know, it's much better than it was back in the previous years.
I was asked a few questions and whatever, and seemed like
I was turned down, maybe, the first time.
was here in Pascagoula, I believe it was. And I think they
finally cut out the poll taxes.
they want you to pay a poll tax the first time you went?
Seems like I paid maybe for a year or two. It wasn't but about
two dollars, and after that I went back again, I believe to
try to register to vote, but seemed like they eased up. They
asked a few questions about the constitution and whatever,
and I think I must have answered whatever, you know, the second
time I went around. So, I got a chance to register to vote,
and ever since then I've been voting. And I don't miss a time
to vote. I vote whatever come up. I realize I didn't always
have the privilege of voting, so, now, I vote, you know, every
time something come up. Mm-hm. Because I take advantage, you
know, of the opportunity to vote. And I try to vote. I even
work, now, as I retired, I work at the polls. You know.
I didn't know that.
I work at the polls. They pay us so much a day.
did you start doing that?
ten years ago. Shortly after I retired from International.
I retired, maybe thirteen years ago, and I started working
at the polls.
And I worked with them. Long hours, you know, but I worked
this last, past, whenever it was. When was that last time
we voted? But, anyway, I've worked every time it's come up.
Yeah. I be at the polls.
I know you have one child, but, do you want to tell me about
your children for the record?
I've got seven of them, four boys and three girls. Julia is
the oldest. Julia. You done met her. You know. And I've got
a son, Robert Earl. He was born in 1951, December 22; Robert
Earl was. And I got, the next one is Larry Dean Rogers, and
he was born April 24, 1953. I believe it was. And one named
Billy. He was born October 12, 1955. And the next one was
Pamela; that's a girl. She was born October 27, 1959, or was
Right. OK. And I got--.
more. (Laughter.) Next one is, let's see, Gloria. She was
born in 1961. OK. December 1, sixty-one. I remember that.
And Mike, he's the baby boy, out of seven. He was born sixty-four,
1964. April 30, 1964.
what was their experience in school like? Did they go to all-black
schools or integrated schools?
think they went--. Well, they started off in segregated school,
but I think they got in the process of integration just before
they finished up, I think. I don't know which one's which.
I know, Julia, the oldest one, she went to integrated school,
but before the other children was out, I think they integrated
before they finished.
it a difficult time for them? Or for you? Do you remember?
yeah. It was kind of difficult because they kind of bussed
them off to different places. They (inaudible) usually go
into one school. They'd ship them off to way over here and
bus them over back over here. And I don't know. They sent
them out of your neighborhood. For instance, when they was
segregated, they was all in this particular neighborhood.
Once they integrated, they sent one way over here out of your
neighborhood. It's kind of difficult, but I guess it was better
after they got situated. But it was kind of difficult.
you have any fears for them when that process was going on?
I did. I had fears for them because I didn't know what was
going to happen. Didn't really know what to expect, because
I just didn't know what might would happen, because so many
things went on at that time. I did have fear for them, but
thankfully nothing serious happened.
you feel like you had a choice? That you could have kept them
in an all-black school? Or at that point was it--? I know
for a while they had freedom of choice, and then--?
thought a choice would be to keep them all in--. But I figured
it was necessary to go to integrated because you get the better
facilities and everything. Now, you take before they integrated,
they always said, "We're going to keep them separate but equal."
But it was separate, but wasn't equal. Because they didn't
have equal facilities like the whites. So, to get the facilities,
it become necessary to get over there and integrate with them.
That's the reason I'd rather for them to go ahead and integrate,
because, you know, to get all (inaudible). But if they got
equal facilities, I would have said, I'd rather kept it segregated.
If it had truly been equal.
been equal. I'd have said, "Segregate them." You know. But
it wasn't. They were naming it separate but equal, but it
wasn't really separate, equal.
was separate and unequal.
to the disadvantage of the African-Americans.
The disadvantage. So, to get the proper education that they
really needed, I think it would be necessary to integrate.
So, you weighed the risk. There was a risk.
had a lot of African-Americans didn't really want it. "I don't
think they ought to integrate." But to get the full results,
I thought it was really necessary. That's what I thought.
I thought it was necessary because you don't want to be held
back because segregation was going to be holding you back
because you wouldn't get no equal facilities.
And I think there is something to be said for learning each
other's ways, and getting to know each other, and interacting,
That's a good thought, too. Because once you get to learn--.
A lot of times if you don't know a person's ways, you can
think--. You know. But you find out his ways. You find out
he's a better person a lot of times, than you think you are.
You know. Whatever.
you're alike. (Laughter.)
you have some differences, but you have a whole lot of ways
Because, see, (inaudible) said, "The black is this, and the
black is that. The white is that." But you learn their ways,
a lot of times it's a lot different than what you were told.
And it makes it better. And I think children, now, get along
better than the old people way back, because like I said,
they didn't mingle. The Caucasian and the black get along
much better now than they did way back in the olden days because
they didn't mingle enough to understand each other. They got
this old thing, you know, "We're white and you're black. And
you ain't good as I. You're inferior and whatever." But when
you really get to know a person, they might not be quite as
bad as you think they are. And that goes for white or black.
you learn them, they might [not] be quite as bad as you think
you cast back in your memory, is there a certain incident
that stands out in your mind when you became aware of racism?
Or racial differences?
let's see. Well, yeah, I think a lot of things stood out because--.
But one thing, some of the main things was we couldn't enter
the restaurants and we had separate water fountains and all
that. That really stood out because they just had us a little
old place here, a little old spout of water, while they had
the decent water fountains and whatever. And same way with
restrooms and whatever. We just had some place like a hole
in the wall. And we couldn't go in theirs, but we had to go
in ours. You know. So, that's some of the things that stood
just didn't feel right.
they'd take my dollar at a little cubbyhole on the side here,
but everybody would go in and spend their money in a decent
place, and they go in there.
you're getting less value for your money when you spend it.
I've got the same dollar but it's got--. If I didn't come
to the side, I had to go to the back or whatever. And you'd
better not go in the front. So, you know, that's one of those
things that really stands out. There might be some more, but
I know that's one of the things. Same way with hotels. You
couldn't get a--. They had hotels and all that stuff, but
you couldn't go in there. You know. At that time.
if you were on a trip, you had to think very carefully which
way you were going, where you'd be able to stay, what you
would do if your car broke down. All that stuff.
right. You'd have to think about all that. You know.
really were thinking about your personal safety.
just an inconvenience.
safety. Because some places you go in, you might endanger
yourself going in because you're not allowed. And, in fact,
you'd be scared to go there to ask for accommodations, or
whatever. Even at gas stations, you hate to go in there to
get gas. I stopped in a place. I was on my way to Chicago,
and I went to a place in Missouri, and I stopped there in
my car (inaudible) in the morning. And I drove there to get
some gas, and the guy that pumped the gas and put it in my
car. He stood there and looked (inaudible). Just like I wasn't
there. And I needed some gas. I said, "Could I get a little
gas, please?" So, he finally put me some gas in there. Put
me ten dollars worth in there. And so when he went inside,
I gave him a twenty-dollar bill, and he stuck it in the cash
register, and looked at me just like (inaudible). I said,
"I gave you a twenty-dollar bill." So, he finally went there
and got my change and brought me another ten. (Laughter.)
But he was going to keep it. But I had to ask for my money.
Man, I needed my ten dollars.
was that? Was that recently?
was way back. That was way back years ago. I can't remember
what year it was, but I was traveling. I believe I was going
to Chicago, or somewhere. Had the family in my car with me.
was ready to shortchange you, if you didn't call him on it.
he was. If I didn't call him on it. Just like as though I
didn't know any better. You know. I would ask for my money,
though. I say, "You owe me ten more dollars."
takes a little courage in the middle of the highway.
A place like that. Because you don't know, in a strange place,
you don't know what they might [do]. You kind of feel like
walking off from it, but I said, "Well, I want my ten dollars."
I needed that on my trip.
Millet: I know.
Ten dollars is a lot of money.
in those days, because everything was very cheap. You know.
Ten dollars was a lot of money. Much more than it is, now.
still be worried about it, today, myself. (Laughter.)
not something I'd like to walk off and leave, today.
off and leave your ten dollars.
after you registered to vote, and you voted, did you ever
feel like there were economic pressures or threats of violence
or other kinds of reprisals for attempting to vote or registering
don't really think so. Now, I heard it happened to other folks.
You know. But personally, myself, I haven't ever had any problem
with it. I've heard a lot of people say they really had problems.
You know. And like I say, even when they go downtown, to get
a loan or whatever, they had problems because they registered
to vote or they participated in different activities. Civil
rights activities or whatever. And a lot of people were afraid
to participate in it because of that.
when you arrived in Pascagoula and Moss Point, what was the
town like in terms of integration or segregation? In hiring
practices and public accommodations like buses and trains,
libraries, physicians' offices, hospitals? What was this part
of the country like in those [days]?
was segregated. Like I said, but I think it was much better
than some places I've been. Now, the Gulf Coast, since I've
been here, has been much better than up in north Mississippi.
Do you have any idea why it would be like that?
don't know. It seemed like to me that people on the coast
is more intelligent. Seems like to me. Than people up in the
thought about it, myself, having grown up in Gulfport, and
I think it might have something to do with Keesler, you know,
having people from all over the world and [from all over]
the country. The Navy base. I guess it's the Seabees. And
just, you know, the harbor town. The industry from the shipbuilding.
You know. It's not quite as agricultural; it's a little more
industrial. And I think that might have something to do with
it. That people are really not so much from Mississippi. They
are other people that come in.
right. Other people that come in. Yeah.
brought some other ideas with them.
what happens, the Gulf Coast is not--. Very few people were
born and raised down here. People came in here from elsewhere.
Very few. Like myself. You know. I came in. Yeah. Right. Now,
you find a few people can tell you about way back in Pascagoula.
Very few. Most of them came in here. And a lot of Alabamians
in here, too. North Mississippians and Alabamians. You know.
I was growing up, none of my teachers were Southern. My friends
were mostly from California or New York or Michigan. Just
from somewhere away, because, I guess, you know, my father
was in the Air Force, and those were the people we knew.
I don't know. It wasn't quite like growing up in Mississippi,
I tell you.
what was the first job you got? What was that like? And what
kinds of changes did you see in your work environment over
mean, like International Paper Company?
yeah. OK. When I first went to International Paper Company
in 1951, in November, like I said, they had the jobs for,
you know, black only. (Inaudible) because they didn't have
no whites on them. Only white was on that job was the foreman.
Supervisor. He'd tell you what to do. And he stood over you
and watched you and made sure you did your job. And everything
hard and heavy, that's what you had to do. And you were tired
when you got out of there that afternoon, and you made your
eight hours. You were tired because you did all heavy work,
and you worked eight hours. You didn't have no time to play
or mess around. The only time you would get a break was when
you would eat, or go to the restroom.
did you eat?
give you a thirty-minute break, and you would just, anywhere
on the job, you would sit down, find a place to sit down.
Anything and just eat. No cafeteria or nothing like that.
No. So, you'd just sit down and eat your lunch and after your
thirty minutes are over you'd get up and get back to work.
You know. And that's the way it was, you know, because, like
I said--. And I worked on that job four years, I believe it
was, but I moved on to another little, old job. It was a much
lighter job, you know. I was on a porter job. You know that's
helping around the first (inaudible) and the office. Kind
of help clean up around (inaudible). That was much lighter,
then. But the same job I just left off of, I told you I'd
been there four years. They integrated the job. They integrated
I think it was after civil rights and everything come along.
I think that was 1955. And they got black and white in there
on the job. All of them.
did you feel like you got a little bit of a promotion? Did
you get a raise in your pay when you left after that four
years and went to a lighter job?
wasn't really a raise in pay, but at that time it was a better
job. The working conditions were better. Mm-hm. But I finally
got a little raise in pay, but at that particular time, just
working conditions were so much better. I didn't work quite
as hard. I (inaudible) so tired. It was much better on me
because I didn't have to work so hard.
do you feel like they were rewarding you for seniority?
I think so.
then, were there other changes? Would you say that now it's
an integrated place, International Paper Company?
it is, now.
you must have witnessed that in your career there. You must
have witnessed big changes.
you describe that? When it started happening?
right after the civil rights movement and then they started
integrating the jobs and they had to offer--. Other words,
the government, they always gave the paper company contracts
and different things for paper. And you've got to abide by
the government rules, then. And then, they said we've got
to integrate. We must integrate.
you will lose these jobs.
lose these jobs.
take them somewhere else.
them somewhere else. So, they understood that. So, they went
through the process.
understand that stuff you can get between your fingers! (Laughter.)
That's right. So, we got to do it. We got to do it. So, that's
when they started integrating those jobs. Mm-hm.
how did you get involved in civil rights?
through the NAACP and all different things like that. I belonged
you join the NAACP?
did that happen?
can't remember what year it was, but it was way back. And
I did join it, and you know, we always would try to fight
for equal rights. You know. And do whatever was necessary
and we try to practice that and help other folks that's been
having problems. You know. Try to help them as much as possible
in what we could do, and that was my involvement in NAACP
and civil rights.
about a union? Did you belong to a union?
I belonged to a union. Yeah, right.
back then, when I first joined the union, it was a segregated
union just for blacks. But eventually we got just a union.
You know, black and white together. Integrated. Like I say,
after civil rights, they had to integrate the union and everything
else along with the jobs. So, I did belong to a union all
through my career of International Paper. All the thirty-something
years I stayed with the union. Some people said the union
wasn't necessary, but I thought it was. It was a kind of halfway
protection for you. You know, in case something happened,
because the unions were supposed to protect you in a lot of
ways. I know some people out there, the company, as far as
they were concerned they would fire you for anything that
you--. A few little things, but the union would always, their
job was to back you up.
could appeal it.
to the union, and they'll look into the situation, and sometimes
they got you back. I know one friend of mine, one of the guy's
I told you, when I got hired, they hired four people.
hired one of the guys. One of the guys that worked with me
at that time, they hired him, and the boss was telling them
something to do, and I don't know what the boss man said to
him, but the boss must have been kind of harsh with him. He
told the boss, say, "I'm a man like you." And you know, they
fired that man for that? He told him, "I'm a man just like
you are." And he was a white man; the boss, you know, of course,
was a white man; the boss were. And he told him, he said,
"I'm a man just like you." You know, they fired him? But the
he get back on?
union got him back. The union got him back, but after he got
back, you know they still hard-timed him?
they give him a hard job?
gave him a hard job. Even transferred him to a harder job.
But you know, that was wrong, but they did get him back to
they still found a way to oppress him.
found a way of doing it. Other words, it might not be too
openly, but they can do it in a way to make you think they
was treating you right, but they still can segregate you and
make it hard for you in a lot of ways.
do you remember about Freedom Summer of 1964 on the Mississippi
yeah. I remember that. They came in here, and they came here
from different places, all over the world, in the North. And
we all helped them out. They stayed around in different houses
around. The black, you know. Stayed in black houses and we
all got together and had meetings at our union hall.
those mass meetings at the union hall?
they were. Mass meetings. But only thing attending them, like
I say, it was black. We all, and the freedom riders, they
would occur at the mass meetings?
we had our meetings and we had to decide what we were going
to do the next day and what we were going to do. You know,
we'd go in and integrate different places. We'd go in places
we know they didn't want us in. Like lunch counters and whatever.
You know, going in. And to beaches, whatever. And sometimes,
we wasn't too welcome in there and lots of other times, you
know, they'd try to start a [conflict] with us. But we tried,
and that's what we did. And fortunately we never got hurt
or nothing like that, but we did. That's the way we started
to integrate the beaches and the lunch counters and the restaurants
and whatever. White and black was going in together a lot,
but the freedom riders were, and naturally, they didn't like
people get arrested?
you ever arrested?
never was. I never was. Somehow or another I got--. (Laughter.)
I never was arrested, but we did, you know, had to put up
a fight. I mean a struggle for it, you know, because, you
know, that's what happened Freedom Summer 1964, because we
would go around different places and try to integrate different
places by going in white and black together and the freedom
riders and whatever. They didn't like it. Sometimes they'd
want to throw us out, and sometimes they would throw you out.
Sometimes they'd call the police, I guess.
That's right. And like some of them got arrested and sometimes
they'd allow you a break, but then most of the time they wouldn't.
If you got kind of harsh with them, they'd take you on down.
But most times we'd just go ahead and try to obey and move
on to another place. You know. (Laughter.) Didn't want to
go to jail. I didn't. I don't think most of them didn't want
somebody's got to make a living.
got to make a living. (Laughter.)
there any boycotts or picket marching, picket lines?
We boycotted some stores and whatever.
did you boycott the stores?
a lot of stores didn't even hire blacks, and I think they
warned them. Told them, said, "You've got to have some black,
or we will boycott." And they did. Some of them boycotted.
Did it work? The boycott?
did. Sometimes it did. Because, you know, they were losing
so much. They had to. In other words, they didn't want to
close down. They said, "Well, we'd better hire somebody here
because we don't want to be boycotted." Places like Wayne
Lee's and different places like that. They were making a lot
of money off the blacks.
Yeah. So, if they were not having any African-American customers,
it really hurt their business.
right. And Pascagoula is more segregated than Moss Point.
Because Moss Point, I don't know whether you know it or not,
but, the majority of Moss Point is black.
Millet: I didn't
a black town. She can tell you that. [Motions to daughter.]
Tell them, Julia. It's a black town. We've got a mayor; well,
the mayor's black. And a judge is black. My son-in-law is
a judge here.
he's a lawyer. And we've got most of our elected officials
of Moss Point is black. It's a black town. But Pascagoula
is much different. You take Moss Point, they (inaudible) good
streets. Used to be Pine Island Road, one of them nice streets
in Moss Point. You know what they named it? Martin Luther
King. Pascagoula is different. They don't have a street in
Pascagoula with Martin Luther King on it. But they've got
a causeway. They put it way over to satisfy us. We fought.
We fought hard to get it. I was in the group with them. And
they never would name one of the good streets of Pascagoula
Martin Luther King, but they put it way over on the highway.
They call it Martin Luther King Causeway. This little strip
between Gautier and Pascagoula; they call it Martin Luther
King Causeway just to give us something. Just to hush us up.
To appease you.
right. And nobody had to change their address to Martin Luther
King. Nobody had to write a letter or nothing that said Martin
Luther King Boulevard or Court or Street or whatever. But
Moss Point do. They've got a nice street that goes all the
way from Highway 63 on back into Moss Point. Martin Luther
you ever go to Mound Bayou as a child or an adult?
went after I was adult. I always wanted to go there, and I
always heard, "(Inaudible) Mound Bayou. Mound Bayou." But
I did go there later on.
it feel different to you to be in that town?
Seemed different. Yeah right.
read some real beautiful interviews from people who grew up
there, and they said they just had wonderful childhoods. You
know. They were so protected.
always wanted to go to Mound Bayou. I always heard talk of
Mound Bayou. I never went there until a few years ago. I went
there to a church meeting in Mound Bayou. They had a black
lady as a mayor there at that time. I can't think of her name,
but she was the mayor of Mound Bayou at that time. A few years
ago. She might not be, now, but she was then. Mm-hm.
what about integrating the beaches here? What did you do to
integrate the beaches?
I wasn't involved in too much of it. I was working at the
time. But I didn't have too much time to spend, but they did.
They put up a struggle down there.
you know Dr. Mason? Gilbert Mason?
is he like?
he was one of the leaders during that time. (Laughter.) He
was leading that thing. Yep. One of the leaders, and they
had to fight pretty hard. They put up a struggle there on
the beach. They didn't want to give it up. They didn't want
to give it up. They fought and fought and did everything down
were restricted to one [beach area]. I think it was in Waveland,
which is an hour from here. In our modern-day cars, it would
take an hour to get there.
long time ago, it probably was a day-trip to go over there
That's right. So, they finally integrated.
you know what finally cracked the resistance? That they could
finally integrate the beaches and go?
I really don't exactly know, but they put up a struggle. I
And they got it done.
got it done. And once they got it done, I mean, that settled
it. Didn't have no problem. Now, you can go down there and
whatever. Go there and swim in there if you want to or have
a picnic on the beach. A lot of people go down there and have
a picnic and have weenie roasts and little picnics right there
on the beach in Biloxi. And you know, have a good time, and
take their families or whatever. Have weenie roasts and picnics
and carry the food and whatever. But at that time, you'd better
not go down there.
years ago, that wasn't done.
years ago, wasn't done.
Millet: I think
we had a revolution in the United States. We really did. Things
have changed so much.
changed so much. Yeah. So, I think things are much better,
now. I think it is much better now than what it used to be.
It might not exactly be like it should be, but it's much better,
and you can kind of halfway live with it. You know, you can
kind of, a person, now, he can kind of make it if he halfway
tries, now. But back then, it was hard. It's much easier now,
than what it was then.
Millet: I think
when--. Oh. Do you need to go? It's twelve thirty. And you
time you have, now? Twelve thirty-three?
actually a little past twelve-thirty.
I guess I'd better [go]. I hate to end it up.
OK. No problem. I do want to say, thank you very much.
(End of the interview.)