Ollye Brown Shirley
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.
Dr. Ollye Brown Shirley was
born in Mound Bayou, Mississippi. As a child she resided in
Chicago and in Oklahoma; as a teen she attended Mound Bayou
High School. After her graduation from high school, Dr. Shirley
attended Tougaloo College where she majored in English. She
and her husband lived in Nashville, Tennessee, as he earned
his M.D. from Meharry Medical College.
Dr. Ollye Shirley moved to
Vicksburg in 1960 with her husband, a physician who set up
his practice there. She taught school in Vicksburg. In 1969
she was one of three African-American students who integrated
Mississippi College, where she earned a Master's degree in
guidance and counseling. In 1978, she earned her Ed.S. in
counseling at Jackson State University, and in 1988, she earned
her Ph.D. in higher education, student personnel from the
University of Mississippi, where her area of research was
In the 1960s, Dr. Shirley was
active in the civil rights movement. She participated in voter
registration drives. She defied the prevailing practice of
teachers' abstaining from NAACP membership (for fear of economic
reprisal) by joining the NAACP and confronting school administrators;
she was successful in keeping her job, thus paving the way
for other teachers to become involved in the civil rights
movement without losing their jobs. She was the editor of
the Vicksburg Citizens' Appeal. During the turbulent
sixties, the Shirleys held civil rights meetings in their
home, and they attended the Atlantic City Democratic National
Convention of 1964, attempting to unseat the regular delegates
Dr. Ollye Shirley is currently
on the Board of Directors of the First American Bank.
Higher education 6
First encounters with racism
First American Bank 8
Teaching school in Vicksburg
Segregation of public libraries
Discrimination by school administrators
Vicksburg Citizens' Appeal
Threats against the Shirleys
Bob Moses 15
Bombing of civil rights school
on Main Street 16
Voter registration 16
Robert Kennedy and circuit clerk
Noel Nutt 16
Social clubs 21
Police harassment of Dr. Aaron
Atlantic City Democratic National
AN ORAL HISTORY
This is an interview for
the Civil Rights Documentation Project. The interview is with
Dr. Ollye Brown Shirley and is taking place on June 18, 1999.
The interviewer is Don Williams.
is June 18, 1999. I will be interviewing Dr. Ollye Shirley
in Jackson, Mississippi, concerning the Vicksburg civil rights
you say you work for the Clarion Ledger?
write for them, but the civil rights project that I'm doing
is, what we're doing, Tougaloo and USM, got a grant from the
Humanities Council, and what they are doing is the oral history
of certain parts of the state. And Dr. Harrisson[?] did one
with the help of the Jackson City Council. She did the Jackson
movement. Had an opportunity to talk with some of the key
people who were involved like Doris Smith and her sister and
Charles Evers and Frank Figgers.
ma'am. Karl Twyner, Hezekia[?] Watkins. I talked with him.
you said Hezekia. I think you mentioned Hezekia the other
ma'am. I was supposed to talk to Dr. Summers, but he kind
of flew the coop on me, and I really wanted to talk to him
because I wanted to ask him about the youth and what did he
think they were going through. What kind of (inaudible).
ma'am. That's really what I wanted to look at in terms of--.
not sure he was here, was he, then?
He went to Lanier.
So he was involved with the youth, with Karl Twyner's older
brother, and Dr. Summers was there.
was thinking he went to school in Chicago, but maybe he didn't.
think they were doing something, his family. And Marla and
them went to Chicago and back.
going to get some water. Do you want any?
ma'am. A glass of water would be good.
got to have some for these allergies.
(There is a brief interruption
in the interview.)
Les McLemore one of the fellows--?
don't remember Mr. Les from then, but my husband might. As
I said, I wasn't a delegate. My husband was a delegate at
that. Either a delegate or alternate, but I know he was the
person who was going to the convention and we took the children.
We all went, and, as I was telling you, Charles Chiplin was
a student of mine in the seventh grade in Vicksburg. I'd say
by this time he was in high school, I think, and I asked him
if he wanted to go with us. And he went. So that just gave
us a chance to take a kid. Well, actually Charles had been
involved in all the things we were doing, like organizing
this newspaper, trying to sell the newspaper, and other kinds
of activities in Vicksburg. So, that's how we happen to have
taken him with us.
Let me just ask you some basic things, first, then I want
to probe you a little bit about that. Now, spell your name,
Do you have a middle initial?
(A segment regarding scheduling
of the interview is not included in this typed transcript.)
know, basically, what we are going to do: I just want to ask
you a few questions about your Vicksburg experience, and you
can give me some more ideas about who else to talk to, what
areas to kind of probe into, and all. Because I don't know
anything about Vicksburg. I know they used to have that club
down on the river there.
Blue Room. When was that? Back in seventy-six, I went over
there, and I had some ribs, and you know, it was a nice little
club. But I understand, I found out a little bit more about
the history of the Blue Room. I know that everybody went there
that was somebody, that were entertainers who were African-Americans
in the South.
when I went by the Jacqueline house, Mrs. Robbins, who has
got that funeral home next to it, she was pulling out stuff
all over the place. I was just taking it in. Yes.
Where were you born?
Mound Bayou, Mississippi. Well, out from Mound Bayou, Mississippi,
in Bolivar County.
do you spell Mound Bayou?
a terrible speller. OK. And your date of birth?
not going to tell you. (Laughter.)
mean, this is going to go on the Internet, now. I mean, you
are going to be global, now.
you're not going to get my date of birth.
just give me one.
give me one off the top. You want me to make up one?
you just don't put it on there.
going to put ten, twenty-four.
10 is my birthday. January 10 is the--.
We'll just put one, ten. My baby was born on, my first child
was born on January 10, Crystal. And Donna was born on January
7. Ain't that something?
is over in Houston. Donna just graduated from Thurgood Marshall
School of Law.
just leave that blank. When did you first go to Vicksburg?
1960, and my husband practiced in Vicksburg.
1960. So you've lived in Jackson. Where else have you lived?
That's where Meharry is, right?
That's where he went to school.
Dr. Kornegay go to Meharry, too?
think so. I don't know. He wasn't there. I don't think they
were there at the same time.
trying to think, who else went to Meharry. I think it was
Dr. Kornegay. Well, you've lived in Jackson, Nashville--.
a short time in Chicago. Well, we've lived in a lot of places.
did you live in Chicago?
the South Side.
no. Wait a minute. That's been so long ago. On the West Side.
it was over--. I think that street was Washburn, but I can't--.
Washburn. There's a Washburn High School.
parents didn't keep us there. They lived there longer than
we did, but then we went to Oklahoma and stayed with her parents
because they just didn't want us being reared in Chicago at
that particular time.
about what year was that?
we were in Chicago? It might have been, probably early forties,
I was born in forty-three at Cook County Hospital. I grew
up on forty-seven Champlain.
was either early forties, or mid-forties. Could have been
mid-forties. Yes, it must have been the mid-forties because
I can remember when the war ended, so that was forty-five.
But I remember that everybody was just so happy. We were in
Oklahoma at that time. So, we had left. Parents were still
in Chicago and we were, the children, were in Oklahoma with
your family was in the Mound Bayou area. Then, where did you
go to school?
Bayou High School.
Bayou High School.
originally, my first school was a rural school that my mother
and father were the teachers. It was a rural, country school.
What was your mother and father's name?
my mother you met. Mrs. Willifred[?] Brown, and his name was
Walter Brown. And part of the time he taught school and part
of the time he played baseball. You know, we think it's the
Negro League, but somebody said it might--. I have not found
anything about him in any of the books, and he played with
a team called the Savannah Cubans, and he went to Cuba, so
it could have been that they were a Cuban team. So we are
not really sure. But we have been trying to research it.
And then from the Mound Bayou High School, then you went where?
to Tougaloo College. OK. What year was that?
OK. And then, what did you major in at Tougaloo?
English major then. And then you went to, you did graduate
(Inaudible) I went to Mississippi College. I was one of the
three black students who integrated Mississippi College.
what year was that?
We were the first blacks there.
what did you major in at Mississippi College?
Guidance and counseling.
And you got a Master's degree there. And then you obtained
a Ph.D. somewhere, didn't you?
went to Jackson State for an Education Specialist's in counseling.
Ed.S. It's an E-D-period-S. Education Specialist's.
Jackson State. JSU. And what year was that?
I think. And a Ph.D. at Ole Miss.
OK. Then a Ph.D., Ole Miss. In what area?
education, student personnel. And my research was in multicultural
When did you get your Ph.D?
eighty-eight. OK. Now, let me ask you this: OK, I just want
a little bit more about your background. Now I want you to
start telling me a little bit about Vicksburg. When did you
realize that there was something amiss in terms of race relations,
in terms of being black in Mississippi?
always knew something was amiss. You know, I never (inaudible).
We were shielded from a lot of it because our parents owned
property, our grandparents owned property and all this stuff.
They really didn't have to work for anybody. But, one of the
things that I remember that really stood out for me was that
when I was--. Some of this gets very painful for me. Because,
when I was in elementary school, there would be little poor
white children that lived in the area near us. At that time,
there were a lot of whites on plantations in Bolivar County,
and they would come to our house and stand on our porch, and
my mother would give them our leftover biscuits or whatever
from the table, because we had had breakfast, because they
didn't have any food, and they'd wait for the bus, and a white
driver would come by and pick them up on the school bus, and
we would have to walk in the mud to school, and they would
then try to run us off the road. And, we would jump the ditch
to get out of the way of the bus, and the bus would splash
stuff on us and throw stuff out the window. So, I knew in
elementary school, from my earliest schooling that something
was wrong because they could ride a bus and I had to walk.
So that was very visible.
Did you talk about that with your parents or with your brothers
yes, we talked about it, and my father was, you know, very
angry and very hostile, and he didn't want those children
to come to our house, (inaudible) to get out of the cold.
He said, "Let them wait out there in the street and get on
the road." He didn't want to give them the food.
My mother said, "Well, they
are children. They don't have anything to do with all this."
That was one incident, but
the other was when we would ride the bus, like the Greyhound
bus, and we would be well-dressed and clean and hair combed
and all that. And I remember we tried to get on the bus in
Shelby, and the bus driver yelled at us and told us to get
back and let the white folks on first. And I remember my mother.
I said, "What's wrong? We're clean. Why didn't they want us
to get on?" And we were very hurt by that. You know. We were
very small, but we were very hurt by that. And, you know,
just all along, it's always been there. And, I just have to
say, my parents tried to shield us as much as they possibly
could. Tried to keep us from having to encounter white folks.
Shirley, could maybe you sit here, and I sit there? Because
you keep squeaking that chair. (Laughter.)
I'm sorry. I like to rock. (Laughter.) I'm sorry. I hadn't
thought about that.
just rocking away. (Laughter.) Could you imagine somebody,
a trainer, downloading this interview, and then you rocking
in the chair in Jackson? (Laughter.)
But let me just mention a couple
of things. I understand that you are the chairperson of the
First American Bank.
of Directors, yes.
And, tell me something about that bank.
it's a minority bank. Minority-owned bank, and it was organized
in ninety-four, I believe. Because I wasn't there right at
the beginning, but a lot of people worked hard to get the
bank started and then they organized the Board of Directors.
Actually, it started out, first of all, as State Mutual, and
we acquired the assets of State Mutual, and then the other,
First--. Whatever the next bank was. I can't remember. Dilday
and some of them organized another bank. I cannot remember
it right now, but we'll have to, you know, go back and get
that. But then when, I think the F.D.I.C. caused them to have
to close because, I guess, maybe the management of it or whatever
was going on. And, First American Bank acquired the stock
of that bank, and that's how we got started. But they sold
a lot of stock, as well, to the public to build the bank.
that the only minority, black, African-American bank in the
it's the only one. It's the only one since, what, the Penny[?]
Savings Bank back in twenty-nine or somewhere back then.
there some kind of savings institution in Vicksburg, as well?
there was. And I don't remember the exact year that that bank
was organized. But, we did--. It's now the Biscuit Company.
We went and had dinner there one night, and I got curious
about this old building, and I started asking questions, and
they took us all around that building. You know, all over
it, and we just could get a tour, and they told us at that
time that it had been the black bank, and then they gave us
information about it that we later read about. I can't remember
the name of that bank, either.
we'll find out. I think when I went by the Jacqueline House,
Mrs. Robbins, seemed like, she was giving me so much information,
I did note that.
So, I'm going to research that. Now, Dr. Shirley, when you
went to Vicksburg, where did your husband, who is an eminent
physician here in Jackson, when you went to Vicksburg, where
did you come from, and what was your first impression?
came directly from Nashville. He had just completed his internship
at Meharry, so we came directly from there to Vicksburg, and
then, he decided that he preferred to work there than to work
in Jackson, and that's where they needed physicians, so that's
where we settled. And I taught school and he practiced medicine.
So what was your first impression when you went into Vicksburg?
What did you think?
well, I hate to say this because--.
you say what--.
was not impressed with Vicksburg, at all. You know, I had
been involved in a lot of civic activities in Nashville and
I noticed that women were not involved in all these things
in Vicksburg, and they kind of wanted everybody to conform,
and they wanted everybody to be liked by the white folks,
and I just didn't care whether white folks liked me or not.
It wasn't important to me. But some folks in Vicksburg were
very proud of the fact that they could be called by their
first names. "Oh, I walked into his store, and he knew my
And I said, "Who wants to be
called by their first name by some white person?" But anyway,
that was important to them. So, I didn't quite fit in in Vicksburg
because I wanted to do other things, and you know, I would
have children over, and we played with our children. I played
softball and all that, out with all the children in the neighborhood.
And parents were looking out the windows, that would, I guess,
think of me as being kind of strange, but when I started teaching,
I taught at McIntyre[?], and--.
was elementary and junior high at that time. And when, you
know, later in the year, I discovered that we didn't make
as much money as the white teachers made, and I started complaining
about that, and we started talking to other teachers, and,
you know, we got such resistance. I remember there was a man
teacher, who, you know, agreed with me that we ought to say
something about this.
you remember his name?
name was Mr. Ferguson. He was a coach. But now, he died. (Inaudible.)
He had a heart attack. But anyway, Coach Ferguson and I were
interested in talking about the fact that we worked as hard
as white people and we didn't have the equipment. We didn't
have the books. We didn't have the desks. And, we had more
children in a class than they had. You know, I had, at least
one year that I worked there, I had sixty-five children in
my room. I had so many children, that in order for anybody
to come in the room, a child had to get up so you could open
the door. So, we could see that we didn't have the resources.
Then I tried to go to the library in order to be able to get
books that I could use as an educator to try to prepare myself
for what the children needed, and the librarians wouldn't
let me in. There was a little "black" library that had almost
nothing. So, I went to the main library and I was trying to
get in. They wouldn't let me in. And, they said, "Well, what
books do you want?"
And I said, "Well, you know,
I don't really know. I just want to look through here and
see what's available."
And they said, "You just tell
us the name of it, and we will send it to the other library."
And I said, "But, I don't know
So, they never let me use the
library. I came over to Jackson, and tried to use the library
here, and I couldn't use that one either: the main one downtown.
And I couldn't use that one, either. And they had a security
guard who, you know, told me to leave, and I did leave. And
I think later, I believe it was the same year, some other
folks went and didn't leave, but I did leave at that time.
And, then it got to the point, when the superintendent came
to the building, the teachers would just jump up and they
would all run to the door to greet him, and I didn't. I would
just keep right on teaching. And I noticed the children said,
"The superintendent is standing right there."
And I said, "So what? He's
here." And we would just keep on, acting like he had never
you remember what the superintendent's name was?
name was Dr. Hawkins. I had a chance encounter with Dr. Hawkins
later. And I would ask Dr. Hawkins for things. "We don't have
workbooks. We don't have, you know--." The first year, we
didn't have shades or blinds on the windows, and the sun would
come up in the windows, and I kept telling the children, we
would have to turn our seats around one way in the morning
and another way in the afternoon, just to keep the sun out
of their eyes. I had asked for blinds; never got them. So
I decided I would make a point. We saved all these Sunday's
comics, and I took those comics, and I taped them to the windows
to keep the sun out. And the superintendent passed by from
the outside and saw those newspapers on the windows, and he
came in and asked the principal, why did I have all that mess
on the windows. And I told the principal, I keep the children,
the sun is in their eyes, and this is the only way I know
to protect them. And I put these newspapers. Can you imagine
a classroom with just Sunday's comics all the way?
Mr. Hawkins was--.
he white or black?
He was over the whole system.
whole system. He was definitely white.
was 1960, now. And then, later, there was another superintendent,
and when this superintendent--I cannot remember what his name
was right offhand--but I'll have to come back to it.
anyway, when he came, he called himself more liberal than
Dr. Hawkins was. And when he--. Well, let me back up. When
Dr. Hawkins would have his secretary to call for me, for some
reason, and I remember one day I went down and they said,
"Is this Ollye?"
And I said, "This is Mrs. Shirley.
What can I do for you?" You know. So everybody in the office
looked around. So, I just wanted to make the point that I
insisted that I be called, "Mrs." Then, when this next superintendent
came in, he called himself a little more liberal, so he started
having faculty meetings together and one year we found out
that he had gotten, I think this was near the beginning of
Title I or Title something, and we found out that he had gotten
the money to buy new equipment, typewriters and things, for
the black schools, but he put it all in the white schools.
So, that summer, we had met. I don't know whether you ever
heard of Jack Young?
rights attorney. Well, we used to go to his house a lot. We
met a person--.
Young was in Vicksburg?
Here in Jackson.
we knew him, and we visited. But anyway, we were invited to
Jack's house one time, and this man from the Office of Education
was here, and we met him. And we said, "If we have problems,
can we call you?"
And he said, "Yes." He gave
us his number and all that. So, we told him about Vicksburg
and about the fact that they were putting all the equipment
that they were given money from out of his office to that
school district, and putting all the stuff in the white schools
and moving all the equipment out of the white schools out
to the black schools, all the old stuff. And he went up, and
he stopped the money. He held up the money coming to Vicksburg.
So we were having this joint faculty meeting, and the superintendent
got up, and he says, "Now, I want to announce that we were
getting," whatever million, number of million, "we were getting
in funds to this school district and somebody has called Washington,
and they have stopped our money. We have a traitor in our
midst." I was sitting there just grinning. (Laughter.) Almost
nobody knew. I don't guess they know to this day, that we
called Washington and stopped their money.
going to know now.
know this is going on the Internet.
difference does it make to me now? Because this superintendent,
later, came and worked in Jackson, and when the superintendent
in Jackson fired him, or was getting ready to fire him, he
came to me. He said, "Oh, you know how closely we worked together,
and all that."
I said, "We did? I didn't know
that we worked that closely together." But anyway, I let him
get fired. You know. I didn't try to protect him at all. But,
I'm skipping around. I wanted to back up and tell you a little
more about him. He also, because he called himself a liberal,
he also had joint workshops for teachers. And all the English
teachers met together and you had this expert who came to
work with us in English. And the white teachers were talking
about their classes of one hundred. They taught 150 students
a day, and all that. And he was giving ideas about what to
do and all. So, I said, "You know, those sound good, but what
do you do when you've got 250 students a day, that you have
to teach? I mean, how many papers can you grade?"
And he said, "Two hundred and
fifty students? You mean you have that many?" And the white
teachers got all upset because I was telling off on them then.
You know, that they had 150; I had 250 to teach every day.
And I had to do as much work grading, I had to do more work
than they did and being paid less. But anyway, then after
that, the superintendent started trying to make some changes.
Reducing class sizes in the black schools, because, you know,
it was getting out then, that we were teaching almost twice
as many children a day, and having to be accountable for being
sure they learned just like those white teachers who had half
of what we had. So, they did make some changes. You know,
they started making some changes, like that. But we just kept
up some mess all the time, until finally, I have forgotten
what the incident was, but when the superintendent spoke to
me about it, I said, "Well, you know--." Oh, I know what.
I started getting involved in civil rights activities. I was
the only teacher in Vicksburg.
know, like COFO was there and NAACP. And then they had what
they call that hot summer of sixty-four. And we started the
newspaper. See, I was the editor of the newspaper. So we started
the newspaper and so--.
the Vicksburg Citizens' Appeal?
That's what I went and found for you to look at. But anyway,
when we started getting involved. My husband was involved
a lot because, you know, there was no problem. He wasn't able
to use the hospitals anyway, and he was independent. So, then
I said, "Well, I want to go to the meetings, too." So I started
going. Well, teachers didn't go because they figured they
would get fired, and we were supposed to sign, we had
to sign documents saying we didn't belong to subversive organizations
and all that. I signed it, but I went on, because my sorority
was a subversive organization. You know, all the other things
that I belonged to were subversive according to them. So,
I went on and started going to the meetings. For years, I
was the only teacher in Vicksburg who went. So, other people
were thinking that they would get fired. So, I just went on,
and I kept going to my little meeting, getting involved, helping
put out the paper, and all, and helping sell the paper out
on the streets. And when the superintendent brought up the
fact, you know, started questioning me, I just said, "Look.
You know what? I want you to fire me. Fire me." You know.
I said, "I guarantee you, you will be in court the rest of
your life." And you know what? He didn't bother me. And after
other folks found out I was doing it, and I wasn't getting
in trouble, then other teachers started coming to the meetings,
as well. But I just challenged him because I was ready to
have a suit. You know, we needed a suit, and that was going
to be the one that we could get.
as a side note: I don't know if you know Mrs. Polk.
dead, though, isn't she?
What's her first name? She's from Meridian.
yes. Those Polks. I thought you meant the Polks in Vicksburg.
there are a lot of parallels between you and her. And I think
she went from Nashville to Meridian.
but she entered Meridian with the same attitude you had when
you went to Vicksburg. You said, "Man, what is this?" And
then you made people start calling you, "Mrs. or Dr." Or whatever.
And she said she wouldn't even go for that, you know?
didn't either. And I looked forward to going shopping. I looked
forward to it because I knew that I was going to have some
confrontation with somebody at one of those stores. I went
in, I think this was maybe the first year I bought a coat
at one of those stores, and I charged it. And they sent the
coat out, and they put--. I said, "Mrs. Aaron Shirley." That's
why on my bank account today, I have Mrs. Aaron Shirley because
I didn't want them to know my first name. And they would always
ask, "What is your first name?"
"I'm Mrs. Aaron Shirley. That's
all you need to know."
So, I bought this coat, and
they sent the bill, and it said, "Aaron Shirley."
So, I called them and I said,
"No, my husband didn't buy it. I bought it, and I am Mrs.
Aaron Shirley." So, they wouldn't change the bill. The next
month, Aaron Shirley. Finally, they started calling us about
And my husband said, "Well,
you know, I didn't buy a coat, so, you know, you don't need
to call me. I didn't buy this coat." And we went a whole year
before they agreed to put Mrs. Aaron Shirley, and I paid for
the coat. Once they put Mrs. Aaron Shirley, I paid for it.
mean to tell me that you held up paying the bill--.
did not pay. I would not pay.
I see. Now, Dr. Shirley, it seems as though that you were
kind of like a trouble maker.
there any repercussions? Did they do anything at all to try
in terms of my job, because they were afraid to. But, yeah,
we had all kinds of threats. Oh, yes. When my husband was
making house calls, then, because he was involved in activities,
[and] I was involved, and then, plus, I just wasn't taking
that stuff at school, we would get up at night, if he had
to make a call at 3 a.m., we would get up, put our children
and babies in the car, and we would all go, and we would all
have--. The oldest child had learned how to shoot a gun. He
had taught him how to shoot, and we would all go out to the
country, wherever he had to go, with him. We were afraid for
him to go alone, and we were afraid for him to stay home.
Because, they threatened--. People on our street and behind
did you live?
lived on Main Street. And there was a big dropoff behind our
house, you know a hill, and people down below us would burn
their lights all night. People on the side of us would burn
their lights. They tried to keep our house lit up because,
you know, the threats. And, see, we had all these meetings
at our house. Well, anybody who came to town, and all these
white students who came to Vicksburg, came to our house. That's
where they met, and we would sit on the floor in our living
room. We were afraid to sit on the sofa, because of the shooting.
So, we would all--. It was amazing to see all these people,
these white folks in their business suits and all, sitting
on the floor. That's where we would sit and meet. On the floor
in our living room.
Then we got to the point, you
know, we had all, like, Bob Moses, when he was here, bring
all these folks, when, I remember we had a meeting when they
were looking for the civil rights workers after they had been
killed. All those folks, we met at our house. So, anybody
who came, met at our house. That was the meeting place. The
churches had been bombed and they were afraid to allow people
to come to the churches. A lot of churches refused to allow
it. Then, some churches did.
there any churches bombed in Vicksburg?
there were churches that were damaged in Vicksburg, but there
was also that, there was some school, up on Main Street, where
a lot of civil rights workers lived. A lot of folks lived
in this building. I can't remember what it was, and I even
have pictures of that building, that I'll find. Well, that
building was bombed, and people, they brought their babies,
and all, to our house, that night. That bomb knocked us out
of bed, but it didn't damage our house. But they all came
to our house.
and some came just to sit and, you know, be protected, I guess.
But they started coming to the house. And that's a lot of
activity. We had the fish fries to raise money for voter registration
drives and all that. We had--. I was a volunteer. I took people
to the polls to register, and I had a--. My oldest daughter
was like a year and a half, maybe two years. I've forgotten.
Was she sixty-three? She was born in sixty-three, so she was
about a year and a half, because I remember I would pack up
her little bag of bottles and things, put her in the car,
in a station wagon, go around and pick up all these folks
and take them to register. My first carload I took--. The
circuit clerk's name was Noel Nutt. I always remember Noel
Nutt. Mr. Nutt wouldn't let them--or Noel (laughter)--wouldn't
let them register. He wanted them to pass the exam, but, see,
they had just passed the Voting Rights Act which said you
didn't have to pass that exam. And, when I got there, they
couldn't register, so I called Frank Summers, who headed the
Voters League in Vicksburg. Mr. Summers came down to the courthouse,
while we stood, and waited, here I'm holding my baby. And,
he went in, and he told Mr. Nutt, "You're supposed to let
these people register." And Mr. Nutt wouldn't do it. So, Mr.
Summers called Bobby Kennedy, right there. Called Bobby Kennedy.
And Bobby Kennedy said, "Let
me speak to Mr. Nutt." And he told Mr. Nutt, "These folks
can register, and you must let them register." And that is
how they got to register without having to pass that exam.
Let me ask you this. You mentioned COFO. Well, just tell me,
what civil rights organizations do you think were important
was there, and I don't remember them being (inaudible). But
COFO was very strong. I remember they had a building there,
and NAACP was active, but I can't remember any others.
you remember who was head of the NAACP, then?
Henry, I'm sure.
mean the Vicksburg chapter.
I believe Mr. or Mrs. Phelps[?]. I believe Mr. Phelps was
head of the NAACP. I can't remember. (Inaudible) Phelps.
COFO. Do you remember anything about the COFO folks who were
heading that office. Because that was the Confederation of--.
Was it Congress of Federated Organizations? Or something like
was there? I would have to go back and try to remember some
of the names of the people.
Dennis, did he ever come over there? Jesse Morris?
I knew all of them. I knew Jesse. Yeah, they must have been
either in Vicksburg or come into Vicksburg, because, yeah,
I remember Jesse Morris. I remember David Dennis, and as I
said, Bob Moses, in McComb, and he was there a lot. And who
else? There were a lot of people from out of state. And Marian
Wright Edelman was involved in Jackson, and I knew her then.
Or was it after that? I'm trying to remember. But all these
names started running together, at this point. But I know
Marian was involved with a lot of the stuff.
churches? You were saying some of the churches had been damaged,
and that they were meeting at your house. But, were there
any churches that were actively involved in the movement?
there were. My husband would remember those churches better
than I do. When I left Vicksburg, I tried to erase a lot of
stuff from my mind. But, I remember we went to church, they
called it down in the "Bottom." I cannot remember that church.
I bet you Charles Chiplin would know all those names, because
I can't remember. I remember a great, something Solomon. (Inaudible)
Solomon. (Inaudible.) I cannot remember the ones that were--.
There were some would not let us use the churches, and others
would, and there were some we consistently had our meetings
at. I remember Martin Luther King came to one of those churches,
but I cannot remember which one it was. And that's something
we would have to go back and search.
there was an Episcopal bishop that came out of Meridian, that
came over to Vicksburg. I think his name was Elliot.
it Elliot or Allen?
was white. Episcopal.
I don't know. I remember a Bishop Allen[?], but I'm not sure
that was before? Because I knew him from Vicksburg or Jackson.
I know he was there, and then Middleton. Bob? But I bet you
that was before we got there, I believe.
Mr. Richard Middleton is at Jackson State now, right?
he's there at Vicksburg now, but his father was there at one
time, too. But I believe that it was just before we got there
that his father was there.
Middleton involved in all these civil rights?
was kind of a young fellow then, wasn't he?
at Jackson State? No, he would be too young for that. And
plus, he wasn't there. He was either in college or they were
living out in (inaudible), I believe. No, I think he (inaudible)
not been back.
Fort Leonard Wood, Missouri? And it's in the early sixties?
I think that's where I first saw his father. I believe he
was stationed out there. I think just before we got there,
he must have gone back to the service or gone into the service.
He was an officer. Am I correct?
was a captain. Was it colonel or captain? One or the other.
I saw his pictures in the Jacqueline House. His, you know,
military uniforms and (inaudible). But, ironically, I was
in Fort Leonard Wood, Missouri from sixty-one to sixty-four.
Isn't that something?
I know we went there. See, because Aaron had a brother-in-law
who was stationed at Fort Leonard Wood, and we went out to
visit them, and we saw the Middletons, and I can't remember
whether this was--. It must have been early sixties.
was probably on that base, then.
Colonel Middleton, I think he was a colonel. I believe.
ma'am. I think he was a colonel.
See, I think he must have left Vicksburg just prior to that
because he was at Fort Leonard Wood when we went out there.
he was a chaplain. Am I correct?
ma'am. I saw his picture. What do you think was the defining--?
How much time do you have?
know I've got to be somewhere at 3:00.
So fifteen more minutes? Can I get twenty minutes?
All right. We might have to do some things again.
ma'am. But I mean this is really kind of giving me some important
stuff here that I can sink my teeth in.
me check this dog, though. (Inaudible.)
barks until you get there. Then she'll start chasing.
me ask you something about your husband. I mean I have heard
a lot about Dr. Shirley, but you kind of perked my interest
up here a little bit more since I'm concentrating on this
Vicksburg thing. You've given me some stuff. I would like
to really sit down and talk to him.
I think it's worthwhile.
if you would just kind of nudge him and encourage him a little
bit, then I will give him a call, and whenever he's got time,
then we'll just try to get this thing together. Then, if we
don't finish, whatever is your time. Because what we are trying
to do is just get our history down pat so that our kids can
understand what it is that we had to go through. What our
history is and how it connects with today. And Vicksburg,
as you said, ain't been told. I don't know why the people
ain't been told. We need to start everybody in Vicksburg that
has some history, needs to be, get it down so that we can
make it available for our kids and the next generation.
don't know why Robert Walker hasn't. He's a historian, isn't
he's busy with the mayor thing over there. I guess he probably
wants to do some things, but he's--.
was another incident that I didn't [mention], about shopping.
ma'am. Tell me about it.
I used to really like to go shopping. If I was angry about
anything, I went shopping so I could tell these white folks
a few things. But anyway, this time I went, I think it was
the (inaudible) was a big department store in Vicksburg. And
I was going, just before school started, to buy all these
clothes up, put them in layaway, getting ready for school,
and all that. So, I bought a lot of things for school. So,
I told the lady I wanted to put them in layaway, so she started
up. She was just so happy, because she had written up. She
knew she was going to make a good sale. And she wrote my name
and she put Aaron Shirley, and I said, "Well, you know, my
husband's not shopping today. I am. So you need to put Mrs.
Aaron Shirley. I'm Mrs. Aaron Shirley." So, she wouldn't do
"Oh, we know who it is." And
then, she wouldn't do it. And she wrote the ticket and wanted
me to sign it.
And, I said, "Well, since my
husband's not here, I'm not going to sign his name. It has
to be Mrs. Aaron Shirley."
And, she said, "Well, that's
no reason. We'll take your signature just as well." So, anyway
I said, "Well, unless you put
Mrs. Aaron Shirley, you can take these things and put them
all back out on that rack." So, she got upset, and went back,
and she said something and then came back and wrote it real
little, "Mrs." in front. I mean, very small, little, "Mrs."
in front of my name. And then, I agreed to sign the ticket
and put the things in layaway, because I was ready to walk
out of that store. But they hated so much to acknowledge that
we were important and we deserved a title, that they would
rather not make a sale, almost, but I guess she was so poor,
she needed her sale, so she went ahead and put her little
bitty little "Mrs." up there so that she could make that sale.
And she was not happy. But I felt so good when I walked out
of that store. I just had to get one up on them every time
I went in there. It was important to me to win. Because I
couldn't win many battles with them. They were winning most
of them, but I had to win where it was my choice, and that
meant a lot to me.
Vicksburg, how was the town situated? I mean, can you recall
just what the population was at that time?
think it was like 40,000. I think. But I might be wrong. I
think it was like 40,000.
you didn't know everybody in town.
no, I didn't know everybody in town. But you know, most people
knew us. And they talked about us a lot. (Inaudible.) And
you know, here they'd send--. Well, one thing, they said that
you needed to wear a hat and gloves, the black folks said,
"Oh, when you go downtown, now, you're a doctor's wife. You
have to wear a hat and gloves."
I said, "Not me!" Said, "Why
do I need to put a hat and gloves?" But I guess that's the
way they felt they wanted. I don't know, but anyway, that's
what they said.
were the model.
model for everybody. But I didn't see that that was important.
But anyway, they would come to us, now, black folks would
come to us and tell us about how, "This is the right church
you need to belong to. You need to join this particular church."
And we said, "Well, that's
not my denomination. This is the church I'm going to belong
to. Want to join." And that's the one I did join.
A.M.E. Church. That's what. We were African-American. We were
A.M.E. And they said all the middle class blacks belonged
to Wesley. So, you know we said, "Well, we won't." The other
was the social clubs. There were specific clubs we were supposed
as what, at that time?
one was called, I think, the Esquire Club. I believe it was.
But Aaron refused to join it. And I have forgotten what the
women's club was, but I didn't join it. I refused. I started
my own bridge club, so you know, we organized our own club.
But we refused to join it. I didn't wear my hat and gloves
to shop, so this delivery man, who worked at the Valley Department
Store. You know, he was the delivery man, but he came and
he told me, "You know, I know you've got a lot of clothes
out here. You need to dress a little differently when you
I said, "Who does he think
he is?" You know? Why do I need to impress these white folks?
And I didn't see that as being important. It was important
to them. It wasn't important to me. I dressed the way I thought
I wanted to dress.
me ask you: when did you register to vote?
registered to vote in--. I can't remember the year. It was
before Aaron went to Meharry. He went to Meharry--. No, it
was the year he went to Meharry, in fifty-five, I believe.
We both registered.
the way, I didn't have to take an exam, when I registered.
There were so few blacks registering that--.
that time there wasn't that kind of repression. And, yes,
I'm going to stop this thing and just turn it over.
(End of tape one, side one.
Interview continues on tape one, side two.)
record at the same time. Yes, I think that'll work. Let me
ask you this: do you--? Now, you mentioned the young folks
coming from the North and that long, hot summer. Is there
a defining moment or an occurrence that you think brought
in a new era or made the transition from--?
would say that was probably sixty-four, that voter registration
drive. I have forgotten. Aaron would probably remember what
organization it was, but I remember these ladies came from
some place, like Alabama or Birmingham. They came from someplace.
Atlanta, I believe. They headed up a voter registration drive,
and we all got involved in that. And I believe that was sixty-four.
I'm certain it was.
were you meeting?
lot of meetings were at our house. Some were at churches,
but I know we had fish fries and things like that in our yard
to raise money to pay for various things. So, yes, a lot of
stuff took place at our house. A lot of meetings. Everybody
seemed to meet there.
Tell me about some of the kind of repressions or reactions
from the status quo. Particularly segregation. Some people
wanted to continue to segregate?
one of the things was that Aaron, well, you know that he was
not allowed to practice in the hospitals, at all. He had no
hospital privileges or anything like that. So they would just
deny him privileges, but then the police would follow him
around. By him making practices--. I was just looking at the
dog. By him looking at--.
original's supposed to show up, too.
By him practicing medicine, he made house calls, and, well,
they would just trail him all day long, every day. They'd
give him tickets for anything. You know, stop him and give
tickets. Since I was in the school, I was not out every day.
So, but, he was the one who caught that kind of repression.
Just being harassed by policemen all the time. One of the
things was, well, this man's name was Rick Perry[?]. He was
one of the richest men in Vicksburg, I think. Mr. Perry was
old, and he ran into Aaron's car. And Mr. Perry told Aaron,
"Get that car out of my way." You know, wanted Aaron to move
it. I guess, so he could go on about his business, but Aaron
refused to do it.
He said, "I'm not going to
move my car until the police come here and do something."
You know, write a ticket or do whatever they are going to
do, but anyway, they called the police. But Mr. Perry just
kept cursing and going on, trying to make him move and Aaron
waited for the police to come.
And you know, "Do you know
who that is? That's Mr. Perry." And they let Mr. Perry go.
And Aaron said, "I want you
to write a ticket, give me a ticket. I want you to show for
my insurance to pay for this, who was at fault and all that."
So, they didn't want to do anything to Mr. Perry. But anyway
they finally gave Aaron whatever he needed. But then, somebody
called the school and told the principal to tell me that Aaron
needs to be quiet. Needs to leave Mr. Perry alone. Because
he doesn't know who he is fooling with and that kind of stuff.
So I have forgotten now whether the policeman called the principal
at McIntyre and the principal told me or who it was, but I
know somebody called the principal and said, "Aaron needs
to leave Mr. Perry alone. He doesn't know what kind of trouble
he is getting into with that kind of stuff."
you tell me some other folks who might--. Like I showed you
that kind of list. I don't know if you remember any of those
folks. But, can you tell me anybody that I might be able to
talk with to help us begin to document what happened?
Thomas was involved. So I see you've got him on here. John
Ferguson's brother, I think it was either brother or uncle
was the one I told you that was teaching with me who died.
But a lot of the folks that I remember have died. Well, Charles
Chiplin remembers a lot of it, and you've got Charles Chiplin.
going to get in touch with him.
look for that article that was in, I believe it was last Sunday's
paper, and I had it until (inaudible).
going to get that.
then his book. I'm going to find that, too. I can't remember
the name of it. Charles' book tells a lot of the stuff, too.
And he also mentioned some of the names. Now Charles' parents
were involved. There was a man named Mr. Pink Taylor who died.
But, like I said, most--. Let me tell you, the educated folks
were not that involved. So, Mr. Triplett[?], that's the other
man. Mr. Triplett eventually got involved, but most people
who were teaching did not participate in any kinds of activities.
They didn't do it. But Mr. Triplett, William. There was a
William Triplett, and he still lives on the corner of, what
is it? Adams Street and Randolph, I believe. If you want to
find him. Now he did start getting involved in things, and
he finally ran for office and was elected to office. Who else?
I guess a lot of folks are dead and maybe their children might
still be around. I don't know. I'd have to think about who
might be alive.
What I'll do is, if I usually get one person, I'll get five
more, and that five will produce twenty more, then I will
eventually cover the town. Whoever's got anything to say.
I'll track them down. This is an easy one here.
I'll tell you who else can. Dr. Jennifer, what is Jennifer's
last name? Jennifer. I have to think of her name. And Thelma
Rush[?] over there was involved some, too. I've got to think
of Jennifer's name. Her last name. Because Jennifer was my
student, but we used to do the, we printed the newspaper at
her aunt's house. We used her aunt's basement, Mrs. Irwin.
We used Mrs. Irwin's basement. And that was Jennifer's aunt.
So Jennifer, I was teaching. So at night, I would go out and
work on the paper, and a lot of white students from the North
were here working on the paper. That was what they were doing.
And I would go after school, but I had this baby that I'm
taking. Jennifer would babysit. Now she was in my English
class, but she would babysit at night when I would go out
to work on the paper. So Jennifer probably remembers. Although
she might have been like seventh grade at the time. She remembers
a lot of things that went on.
these are? What, have you got these laminated or something?
my husband, we found--. I used to have a copy of every paper
that we had, but these are the only ones I could find, and
he was trying to preserve them.
I see Eddie Thomas.
Yes, there are a lot of names in there that you--
Phelps is dead, I think.
Then I saw you have some COFO people here.
We took the first issue of that paper, we took to Atlantic
City to the Democratic National Convention. And we were so
proud to pass that paper out, but when we got there, we were
trying to find the place where we were to live, the hotel
where we were going to stay. Well, we stayed across the street
from the hotel where everybody was staying since we had our
children with us and we kept Charles Chiplin with us. And
when we would drive down the street, people would stop. When
they'd see the Mississippi license plate, they'd stop and
wanted us, let us--. The cop said, "Go on." They'd give us
the right of way. But I was at a laundromat washing clothes
one morning and somebody was passing and they saw the tag,
the car parked in front of the laundromat and stopped and
came in. "Who's from Mississippi?" Because everybody knew
there was going to be all this excitement with unseating the
delegates. That attempt to unseat the delegates, so they were
all interested in Mississippi. And people would stop off the
street. And we stayed across the street from the hotel with
a lady who was Jewish. She had been hurt in the prisons, either
Poland or Auschwitz or someplace. But anyway, this lady, we
stayed with this lady, and she lived right next door to the
synagogue in Atlantic City, and people who would come to the
synagogue would stop to talk to us, talk to me and the children,
and they were impressed with the children's intelligence.
They thought black folks from Mississippi really didn't know
anything. Then, they offered to adopt us, and tried to get
us not to go back to Mississippi. This Jewish congregation
wanted to adopt us. (Laughter.) "Don't you go back down there."
"Come on, stay up in here."
up here with us. We'll take care of you." But it was really
interesting. And I didn't really know Atlantic City, and I
wanted to take the children for breakfast one morning. I mean,
the very first morning I was there. Aaron would get up and
go to the meetings. Fannie Lou Hamer and all them were there,
and I would take the children to eat, and I would stop the
policemen, patrol car, and I said, "Would you tell me where
I can eat?" And I just wanted to know the directions. I knew
I could eat anywhere.
And the policeman said, "Lady,
here you can eat anywhere." You know, they thought I didn't
know that I could eat anywhere. I just wanted to know how
you get there.
"Well, tell me where to go."
But they thought, being from Mississippi, you know, I figured,
you know, I've got to be careful where I eat. But I just wanted
to know where to go. They were so--.
"Lady, here you can eat anywhere."
That was an interesting trip. People, we got a lot of attention.
know, I'm going to end this, because, as I was looking at
this, I see some other stuff that I want to kind of look at,
but I just want to get you to promise me that you're going
to let me do an exit interview with you at your convenience.
(End of the interview.)