An Oral History

With

Dr. Ollye Brown Shirley













Interviewer: Donald Williams













Tougaloo College Archives























This interview was transcribed as part of the Civil Rights Documentation Project.

Funding for this project was provided in part by the Mississippi

Humanities Council, the National Endowment for the Humanities, and

the Mississippi Department of Archives and History.



1999

Biography



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 multicultural education.



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 from Mississippi.



Dr. Ollye Shirley is currently on the Board of Directors of the First American Bank.

Table of Contents



Childhood 4

Higher education 6

First encounters with racism 7

First American Bank 8

Teaching school in Vicksburg 9

Segregation of public libraries 10

Discrimination by school administrators 10

Vicksburg Citizens' Appeal 13

Threats against the Shirleys 15

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 Shirley 23

Atlantic City Democratic National Convention 25

AN ORAL HISTORY



with



OLLYE BROWN SHIRLEY



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.



Williams: Today is June 18, 1999. I will be interviewing Dr. Ollye Shirley in Jackson, Mississippi, concerning the Vicksburg civil rights movement.



Shirley: Did you say you work for the Clarion Ledger?



Williams: I 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.



Shirley: Figgers?



Williams: Yes, ma'am. Karl Twyner, Hezekia[?] Watkins. I talked with him.



Shirley: Oh, you said Hezekia. I think you mentioned Hezekia the other day.



Williams: Yes, 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).



Shirley: Psychological aspects?



Williams: Yes, ma'am. That's really what I wanted to look at in terms of--.



Shirley: I'm not sure he was here, was he, then?



Williams: Yes. He went to Lanier.



Shirley: Oh, did he?



Williams: Yes. So he was involved with the youth, with Karl Twyner's older brother, and Dr. Summers was there.



Shirley: I was thinking he went to school in Chicago, but maybe he didn't. OK.



Williams: I think they were doing something, his family. And Marla and them went to Chicago and back.



Shirley: I'm going to get some water. Do you want any?



Williams: Yes, ma'am. A glass of water would be good.



Shirley: I've got to have some for these allergies.



(There is a brief interruption in the interview.)



Williams: Wasn't Les McLemore one of the fellows--?



Shirley: I 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.



Williams: OK. Let me just ask you some basic things, first, then I want to probe you a little bit about that. Now, spell your name, please.



Shirley: O-L-L-Y-E.



Williams: O-L-L-Y-E. Do you have a middle initial?



Shirley: B.



(A segment regarding scheduling of the interview is not included in this typed transcript.)



Williams: You 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.



Shirley: The Blue Room.



Williams: The 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.



Shirley: Right.



Williams: So, 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?



Shirley: In Mound Bayou, Mississippi. Well, out from Mound Bayou, Mississippi, in Bolivar County.



Williams: How do you spell Mound Bayou?



Shirley: M-O-U-N-D B-A-Y-O-U.



Williams: B-A-Y-



Shirley: O-U.



Williams: I'm a terrible speller. OK. And your date of birth?



Shirley: I'm not going to tell you. (Laughter.)



Williams: I mean, this is going to go on the Internet, now. I mean, you are going to be global, now.



Shirley: Well, you're not going to get my date of birth.



Williams: Well, just give me one.



Shirley: What?



Williams: Just give me one off the top. You want me to make up one?



Shirley: No, you just don't put it on there.



Williams: I'm going to put ten, twenty-four.



Shirley: January 10 is my birthday. January 10 is the--.



Williams: OK. 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?



Shirley: Yeah.



Williams: Crystal is over in Houston. Donna just graduated from Thurgood Marshall School of Law.



Shirley: Oh, that's good.



Williams: We'll just leave that blank. When did you first go to Vicksburg?



Shirley: In 1960, and my husband practiced in Vicksburg.



Williams: OK, 1960. So you've lived in Jackson. Where else have you lived?



Shirley: Nashville, Tennessee.



Williams: Nashville. That's where Meharry is, right?



Shirley: Right. That's where he went to school.



Williams: Did Dr. Kornegay go to Meharry, too?



Shirley: I think so. I don't know. He wasn't there. I don't think they were there at the same time.



Williams: I'm trying to think, who else went to Meharry. I think it was Dr. Kornegay. Well, you've lived in Jackson, Nashville--.



Shirley: And a short time in Chicago. Well, we've lived in a lot of places. Chicago, Oklahoma.



Williams: Where did you live in Chicago?



Shirley: On the South Side.



Williams: Exactly where?



Shirley: No, no. Wait a minute. That's been so long ago. On the West Side.



Williams: West Side.



Shirley: Yes, it was over--. I think that street was Washburn, but I can't--.



Williams: Yes, Washburn. There's a Washburn High School.



Shirley: My 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.



Williams: And about what year was that?



Shirley: That we were in Chicago? It might have been, probably early forties, I believe.



Williams: OK. I was born in forty-three at Cook County Hospital. I grew up on forty-seven Champlain.



Shirley: It 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 our grandparents.



Williams: Now, your family was in the Mound Bayou area. Then, where did you go to school?



Shirley: Mound Bayou High School.



Williams: Mound Bayou High School.



Shirley: Well, originally, my first school was a rural school that my mother and father were the teachers. It was a rural, country school.



Williams: OK. What was your mother and father's name?



Shirley: Well, 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.



Williams: OK. And then from the Mound Bayou High School, then you went where?



Shirley: Tougaloo.



Williams: Went to Tougaloo College. OK. What year was that?



Shirley: In forty-nine.



Williams: Forty-nine. OK. And then, what did you major in at Tougaloo?



Shirley: English.



Williams: OK. English major then. And then you went to, you did graduate work, right?



Shirley: Yes. (Inaudible) I went to Mississippi College. I was one of the three black students who integrated Mississippi College.



Williams: And what year was that?



Shirley: That was sixty-nine.



Williams: Nineteen sixty-nine.



Shirley: Yes. We were the first blacks there.



Williams: And what did you major in at Mississippi College?



Shirley: Counseling. Guidance and counseling.



Williams: OK. And you got a Master's degree there. And then you obtained a Ph.D. somewhere, didn't you?



Shirley: I went to Jackson State for an Education Specialist's in counseling.



Williams: OK. Educational--.



Shirley: That's Ed.S. It's an E-D-period-S. Education Specialist's.



Williams: At Jackson State. JSU. And what year was that?



Shirley: Seventy-eight, I think. And a Ph.D. at Ole Miss.



Williams: Oh, OK. Then a Ph.D., Ole Miss. In what area?



Shirley: Higher education, student personnel. And my research was in multicultural education.



Williams: OK. When did you get your Ph.D?



Shirley: Eighty-eight.



Williams: Nineteen 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?



Shirley: I 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.



Williams: OK. Did you talk about that with your parents or with your brothers and sisters?



Shirley: Oh, 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.



Williams: Dr. Shirley, could maybe you sit here, and I sit there? Because you keep squeaking that chair. (Laughter.)



Shirley: Oh, I'm sorry. I like to rock. (Laughter.) I'm sorry. I hadn't thought about that.



Williams: You're 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.



Shirley: Board of Directors, yes.



Williams: OK. And, tell me something about that bank.



Shirley: Yes, 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.



Williams: Is that the only minority, black, African-American bank in the state.



Shirley: Yes, it's the only one. It's the only one since, what, the Penny[?] Savings Bank back in twenty-nine or somewhere back then.



Williams: Was there some kind of savings institution in Vicksburg, as well?



Shirley: Yes, 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.



Williams: Well, 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.



Shirley: There was one.



Williams: Yes. 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?



Shirley: We 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.



Williams: OK. So what was your first impression when you went into Vicksburg? What did you think?



Shirley: Oh, well, I hate to say this because--.



Williams: No, you say what--.



Shirley: I 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 first name."



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--.



Williams: Was that elementary?



Shirley: It 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.



Williams: Do you remember his name?



Shirley: His 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 the name."



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 shown up.



Williams: Do you remember what the superintendent's name was?



Shirley: His 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?



Williams: Now, Mr. Hawkins was--.



Shirley: Dr. Hawkins.



Williams: Was he white or black?



Shirley: He was white.



Williams: OK. He was over the whole system.



Shirley: The whole system. He was definitely white.



Williams: Oh, OK.



Shirley: This 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.



Williams: We'll find it.



Shirley: But 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?



Williams: Yes, ma'am.



Shirley: Civil rights attorney. Well, we used to go to his house a lot. We met a person--.



Williams: Jack Young was in Vicksburg?



Shirley: No, no, no.



Williams: OK. Here in Jackson.



Shirley: But 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.



Williams: They're going to know now.



Shirley: I don't care.



Williams: You know this is going on the Internet.



Shirley: What 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.



Williams: What organization?



Shirley: You 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--.



Williams: That's the Vicksburg Citizens' Appeal?



Shirley: Yes. 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.



Williams: Just as a side note: I don't know if you know Mrs. Polk.



Shirley: Yes. Myrtie[?] Polk?



Williams: Yes.



Shirley: She's dead, though, isn't she?



Williams: No. What's her first name? She's from Meridian.



Shirley: Oh, yes. Those Polks. I thought you meant the Polks in Vicksburg.



Williams: Well, there are a lot of parallels between you and her. And I think she went from Nashville to Meridian.



Shirley: I think so.



Williams: And, 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?



Shirley: I 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 the bill.



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.



Williams: You mean to tell me that you held up paying the bill--.



Shirley: I did not pay. I would not pay.



Williams: Oh, I see. Now, Dr. Shirley, it seems as though that you were kind of like a trouble maker.



Shirley: I was.



Williams: Were there any repercussions? Did they do anything at all to try to--?



Shirley: Not 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 us--.



Williams: Where did you live?



Shirley: We 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.



Williams: Were there any churches bombed in Vicksburg?



Shirley: Yes, 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.



Williams: The injuries.



Shirley: Yes, 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.



Williams: OK. Let me ask you this. You mentioned COFO. Well, just tell me, what civil rights organizations do you think were important in Vicksburg?



Shirley: SCLC 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.



Williams: Do you remember who was head of the NAACP, then?



Shirley: Aaron Henry, I'm sure.



Williams: I mean the Vicksburg chapter.



Shirley: Oh, I believe Mr. or Mrs. Phelps[?]. I believe Mr. Phelps was head of the NAACP. I can't remember. (Inaudible) Phelps.



Williams: Now, COFO. Do you remember anything about the COFO folks who were heading that office. Because that was the Confederation of--.



Shirley: Federated. Was it Congress of Federated Organizations? Or something like that.



Williams: Yes, ma'am.



Shirley: Who was there? I would have to go back and try to remember some of the names of the people.



Williams: Dave Dennis, did he ever come over there? Jesse Morris?



Shirley: Yes, 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.



Williams: What 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?



Shirley: Yes, 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.



Williams: Now, there was an Episcopal bishop that came out of Meridian, that came over to Vicksburg. I think his name was Elliot.



Shirley: Was it Elliot or Allen?



Williams: He was white. Episcopal.



Shirley: Oh, 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.



Williams: Now, Mr. Richard Middleton is at Jackson State now, right?



Shirley: Yes, 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.



Williams: Was Middleton involved in all these civil rights?



Shirley: I doubt it.



Williams: He was kind of a young fellow then, wasn't he?



Shirley: Over 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.



Williams: In Fort Leonard Wood, Missouri? And it's in the early sixties?



Shirley: Yes, 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.



Williams: OK. He was an officer. Am I correct?



Shirley: He was a captain. Was it colonel or captain? One or the other.



Williams: Yes, 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.



Shirley: Oh, were you?



Williams: Yes. Isn't that something?



Shirley: Well, 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.



Williams: I was probably on that base, then.



Shirley: So Colonel Middleton, I think he was a colonel. I believe.



Williams: Yes, ma'am. I think he was a colonel.



Shirley: Yes. See, I think he must have left Vicksburg just prior to that because he was at Fort Leonard Wood when we went out there.



Williams: Now, he was a chaplain. Am I correct?



Shirley: Yes.



Williams: Yes, ma'am. I saw his picture. What do you think was the defining--? How much time do you have?



Shirley: I know I've got to be somewhere at 3:00.



Williams: OK. So fifteen more minutes? Can I get twenty minutes?



Shirley: OK. All right. We might have to do some things again.



Williams: Yes, ma'am. But I mean this is really kind of giving me some important stuff here that I can sink my teeth in.



Shirley: Let me check this dog, though. (Inaudible.)



Williams: OK.



Shirley: She barks until you get there. Then she'll start chasing.



Williams: Let 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.



Shirley: Yes, I think it's worthwhile.



Williams: So, 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.



Shirley: I don't know why Robert Walker hasn't. He's a historian, isn't he?



Williams: Well, he's busy with the mayor thing over there. I guess he probably wants to do some things, but he's--.



Shirley: There was another incident that I didn't [mention], about shopping.



Williams: Yes, ma'am. Tell me about it.



Shirley: But 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 it.



"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 she--.



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.



Williams: Was Vicksburg, how was the town situated? I mean, can you recall just what the population was at that time?



Shirley: I think it was like 40,000. I think. But I might be wrong. I think it was like 40,000.



Williams: So you didn't know everybody in town.



Shirley: Oh, 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.



Williams: You were the model.



Shirley: The 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.



Williams: Which was what?



Shirley: Bethel 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 to join.



Williams: Such as what, at that time?



Shirley: Well, 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 come downtown."



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.



Williams: Let me ask you: when did you register to vote?



Shirley: I 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.



Williams: OK. What other--?



Shirley: By the way, I didn't have to take an exam, when I registered. There were so few blacks registering that--.



Williams: At 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.)



Williams: --and 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--?



Shirley: In Vicksburg?



Williams: Yes, ma'am.



Shirley: I 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.



Williams: Where were you meeting?



Shirley: A 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.



Williams: OK. Tell me about some of the kind of repressions or reactions from the status quo. Particularly segregation. Some people wanted to continue to segregate?



Shirley: Well, 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--.



Williams: The original's supposed to show up, too.



Shirley: OK. 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."



Williams: Could 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?



Shirley: Eddie 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.



Williams: I'm going to get in touch with him.



Shirley: And look for that article that was in, I believe it was last Sunday's paper, and I had it until (inaudible).



Williams: I'm going to get that.



Shirley: And 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.



Williams: OK. 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.



Shirley: Now, 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.



Williams: Now these are? What, have you got these laminated or something?



Shirley: Yes, 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.



Williams: OK. I see Eddie Thomas.



Shirley: Yes, there are a lot of names in there that you--



Williams: Henry Phelps.



Shirley: Mr. Phelps is dead, I think.



Williams: OK. Then I saw you have some COFO people here.



Shirley: Yes. 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."



Williams: Yes. "Come on, stay up in here."



Shirley: "Stay 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.



Williams: You 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.



Shirley: OK.



(End of the interview.)

 
 

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