interview was transcribed as part of the Civil Rights Documentation
Funding for this
project was provided in part by the Mississippi
the National Endowment for the Humanities, and
Department of Archives and History.
Mrs. Annie Lee Stewart was
born March 21, 1927, in Grenada County, Mississippi. Her parents
were the late Rosie Stewart Walker and Mr. Luke Stewart. She
is the fifth child of nine children.
For many years Mrs. Stewart
was a cook at the Monte Christie Café, and the Country
Kitchen, as well as the Country Club Restaurant. While working
holidays and weekends, from sunup to sundown, she always found
time for her seven children and three nephews. She was able
to provide for her children on a meager wage that never exceeded
two dollars per hour.
In 1996, in memory of Mrs.
Stewart's loving mother Mrs. Rosie Walker, the NAACP gave
Mrs. Stewart an award for being a diligent civil rights activist
in the sixties. In 1997, the NAACP gave Mrs. Stewart another
award for activity in the civil rights movement.
Mrs. Stewart's children are
Freeman (deceased), Alberta, Jimmi, Beverly, Carol, Lawrence,
Civil rights in Grenada, Mississippi
Meredith March 9
Bell Flower Church 12
Integration of Grenada schools
Mrs. Stewart's segregated school
Cooking in the civil rights
Integrating the Monte Christie
Dr. Martin Luther King 32
Mrs. Rosie Walker's movement
AN ORAL HISTORY
This is an interview for
the Civil Rights Documentation Project. The interview is with
Mrs. Annie Stewart and is taking place on March 22, 2000.
The interviewer is Worth Long.
Long: OK. We're
recording this for the Mississippi Oral History Program and
for the Tougaloo College Archives. Now, we're in Grenada,
Mississippi. Can you tell me your name and where and when
you were born, please?
name is Annie Lee Stewart, and I was born in Grenada County.
In what year?
What was it like growing up in Mississippi at that time?
it was rough. I can tell you. Go in the field and picking
cotton, pulling corn, and everything. Plowing the mules. And
it was rough.
Who were your father and mother, and what kind of occupation
did they come out of?
they was farmers. My mother was named Rosie Stewart, and my
father was named Luke Stewart.
And where exactly--? Was there a particular plantation or
a place where you were farming at that time?
was in Yalobusha County. A place they called Coffeeville.
And what did your folks say about that time? Can you tell
there wasn't anything they could say because at that time,
they was afraid to talk about anything, but most times we
didn't even have clothes fitting to wear to school, shoes,
or what have you. In other words, they would just take everything.
Yeah. Oh, it was rough growing up back then.
was the system you were working on? Was it sharecropping?
You say you were chopping cotton. How exactly did he pay off
people who worked for him on that place in Coffeeville?
it was sharecropping. Just after everything is gathered, you
know, after you harvest everything, well, then, you know,
that's when you get your pay. Which wouldn't be nothing. Because
he would say, "Well, you almost broke even." You know. And
that type of stuff. The man said, "Well, we'll let you have
fifteen dollars per month to survive till the next term."
You know. Oh, it was just really rough. Yes, indeed. It was
Long: So, how
do you think your family did considering the conditions of
I think they did pretty good, because at that time, I mean,
everything you had, you know you'd have to raise it and grow
it and whatever. You know, I mean you just couldn't, as far
as hogs and cows and all like that, you know, your chickens,
and all that. You had to raise all that yourself. Yeah. So,
it was rough.
How many boys and girls?
was five girls and four boys.
And was women's work different from men's work?
does that mean?
means women plowed, too. Pulled corn. Pulled cross-cut saws
to saw wood. (Laughter.) So, it wasn't any different.
Long: Did y'all
get the same amount of attention as men?
They always thought the men was supposed to get more. You
know. The man, they would always pay them more. But in the
meantime, we was there [the same] hours, doing the same type
Tell me when you began [in] the day? Give me--. I'm going
to go on and let you talk, and you can give me an example
of one working day you might remember. Just an example of
a working day. Y'all get up at--. Let's see, work starts at
9:30, generally, when you work downtown. So, talk about the
field. When did work start?
And just go on and tell me about it.
well, we worked till dark. As long as you could see, you was
out there. You really didn't have no rest time until you got
off, and that was because you worked all day. Yeah. You just
worked all day. Then on Saturday, you would have to do your
laundry, and go do what little shopping you could do. Right
back in the field, Monday morning. You'd go to church on Sundays.
Right back to the field. And you went to the field from Monday
until Saturday noon.
And then what would you do after Saturday noon? You say you
got off at Saturday noon.
Uh-huh. Well, that's when you do your laundry.
Yeah. You work around the house.
Long: I see.
And Saturday night?
it wasn't anything to do Saturday night but go to bed. (Laughter.)
Long: And Sunday
you went to church on Sunday morning.
Long: And what
was the church you went to up in Coffeeville?
Long: Do you
remember what church was like? Just feel free to tell me.
yeah. It was better than it is now, because you could hear
them down under the hill before you get there. And Lord, they
would be having a time. I tell you. Oh, yeah. It was real
good back there, then. Yes, indeed. Go to Sunday school on
Sunday morning and back for service at night, and back to
the field Monday morning.
Now, at the church, did they eat out there, too?
exactly would they have for you to eat and to drink, when
you were out there after the church service?
they would have lemonade to drink, and they would have chicken
and potato pies, and you know, greens, and peas, and stuff
And who would bring it?
all the members, you know, everybody would take a basket.
now. Everybody would take [a] basket?
Long: OK. Now,
tell me what your mama would take sometimes.
she would take fried chicken and greens and cornbread and
pies. Fried pies, or something like that. Yeah. Just like,
for instance, like, it's going to be, like, this Sunday. Well,
they pick out so many to bring boxes; and then the next one,
so many more. You know.
Yeah. And what if you had meager means; you didn't have much
you could bring? What would you do?
carry whatever you could.
bring any banana sandwiches?
Long: You ever
seen any banana sandwiches?
yes, I've seen them.
But they wouldn't bring that to church?
Mm-mm. No, they didn't bring no banana sandwiches.
Long: To church.
And then, how would the table that people ate off of look?
What did they eat off of?
they cut those two by fours or whatever. They made those tables.
So, it's a slab table.
And then they put some kind of cloth over it?
Long: I see.
sacks. Take those flour sacks and make those tablecloths.
Long: I see.
Who could eat first?
preachers. And the deacons. (Laughter.)
Long: I wonder
wondered that, myself. (Laughter.) And most time, there wouldn't
be nothing left, hardly.
Long: You mean,
they would sit there at the table and just eat till they were
yes. Yes. Yes. And then, "We're going to wrap this for the
preacher. Let the preacher take this home."
I'd be saying, "Lord," to myself,
"what in the world are we going to eat?" (Laughter.) Oh, boy.
We've come a long ways, but not far enough.
I guess. Now, the children, when did they eat?
they would always eat after the adults.
So, then the preacher eats first, then the adults, and then
And let's suppose you were a child at that time. We're going
back that far.
So, what would you be thinking?
[children] didn't have nothing [to eat] but a neck and feet.
wasn't nothing going to be left but what?
neck and the feet. (Laughter.)
Long: And you
would eat that?
And be glad to get it.
Long: And then,
some of the potato [pie]?
Some of the dessert. And vegetables. They wouldn't leave no
meat, though. (Laughter.)
is something. But you would have some lemonade?
the kids would have lemonade.
me what kinds of songs were being sung during that time that
you can remember?
"I'm Going Home to Live with Jesus," and "I'm Packing Up and
Getting Ready to Go Home."
were some of your favorite songs? Can you remember a particular
favorite that you had? Or that your mother or family sang?
What about now? What are some of your favorites?
So many of them are running across my mind right now, until
I can't even think. (Laughter.)
Long: But my
question has to do with: is the music different, now, than
it was then?
yeah. There wasn't any music, then. Oh, nothing but your hands
and feet. No, wasn't any music back then.
that whole thing. I'm going to let you talk for maybe five
minutes about that. Just talk any kind of way you want to
about the music and what you saw in church, and how the children
felt. Can you do that for me?
when they'd be throwing out those hymns, them old, good hymns,
when you'd be down at the bottom of the hill trying to get
that dust off your feet to get your shoes on, because you'd
be done walked there barefoot. (Laughter.) And they would
be singing them hymns, and they would sound so good. Ooooh,
Lord. "I'm on the battlefield for my Lord." And oh, Lord,
they'd be singing. I mean, they would sound good. But it wasn't
any music. No. "And I promised to Him that I would serve until
I die." Now, that was good back then. But now, all this loud
music and, oh! Well, you know, back then, they used to preach
from the Good Book, but now they preach from your
pocketbook. (Laughter.) Oh, yeah. It was some good days back
then. But now! You can't hardly afford to go to church, they
ask for so much. Begs too much! Oh, Lord. Mmmm.
Long: Did folks
shout in church?
yes. Oh, yes. They would shout, sure enough, then. But now
they think they're too cute to shout. Yeah. They would shout,
then. And there was some good preaching back then. Oh, Lord.
Yes, indeed. There was some good preaching back then.
Long: Did you
ever hear any of the, we call them "classic" black sermons?
Like "Jonah, in the Belly of the Whale?"
Long: Can you
think of any others like that?
know. I don't believe I can.
Long: Did you
ever hear of the "Eagle Stirred the Nest?"
the nest? Yeah.
did you hear that the first time, you think?
was in Coffeeville.
Long: You heard
a local preacher?
Because I know it was a record, at one time, too. C.F. Franklin
put it out.
were they singing in that song, "The Eagle Stirred the Nest?"
It's been so long, I really can't.
But I just wrote something, and it was about how the preacher
preached that, and he used to talk about how the mother would
bring worms to the eagle and make a feather-bed for the eagle,
but then at a certain point, started bringing thorns and putting
them in the nest, and very little food for the eagle because
she was ready for the eagle to fly. Was it kind of like that?
It was something kind of like that, but I really can't remember
Long: I see.
OK. And I'm saying that because I'm trying to look at why
and how black people up here in Grenada and people from Coffeeville
and other places got ready to fly. And I'd like for you to
talk about that. Why were they going to get involved in trying
to bring change during the early 1960s?
after we learned about the movement, we just thought it was
a good time to get involved. So, after they came here and
then got us, you know, registered to vote, well, I just figured
we should just keep pushing on. Wasn't no point in turning
around. So, we just kept going from there. And so, then Dr.
King and them came and so, we just been out there ever since.
Long: Can you
tell me the first time you ever heard about the movement?
And then what you did or your mother or your family did in
response to that? Kind of an early story about the movement.
that in sixty-four? When I came home from work, some of the
civil rights people was at the house. And so, I got home,
and my mother told me to fix some food for them. And so, I
went in there, and I cooked. And they sat around, and they
ate. And would have mass meetings at the house, and so, I
mean, it just--. They kept coming and kept coming. They was
in every room on the beds, and all in the living room, and
kitchen and everywhere. They was all over the house. And when
they would come along on the bus traveling, we would fix lunch
for them to travel with and all that when they were, you know,
going on the march. And a paddy-wagon loaded up at our house.
I mean, they were taking them all down to
jail. Yeah, right at our house.
talking about on Plum Street?
was the number of that house, now?
right next to where we are right now?
Long: And you're
saying that your mother remembers the Meredith March. What
did she do during the Meredith March that you mentioned?
when she heard about him getting shot--.
was her name, please?
Walker. And she went and met the march and led it on back
to here, and then they went on through. So, we washed their
clothes and ironed them.
right here. Right here. James Meredith, from up there at Ole
Miss. You know. He integrated Ole Miss.
it was awful; I tell you. They was going to jail, taking them
to jail in the cattle trucks and whatever, and so, we was
all up around the jail getting them out of jail. Or up there
bonding them out. And over there at John Rundle School when
they was beating them with trace chains, and axe handles,
and all of that. And broke some of their ribs, and some of
their legs. It just--. Oh, it was terrible.
And who you talking about did that?
white peoples. When they integrated the school. When the black
went over there. My mother and Dr. King led the march over
there, and they beat them with axe handles and chains and
broke ribs. Broke their legs. And all of that.
Long: Was Dr.
King in danger during that time?
I'm pretty sure he was, but they didn't bother him at that
time. Not here.
your mother, how did you feel about your mother being in danger?
really and truly, my mother got tear-gassed. Real, real bad.
And she never did get over it. No, she never did get over
that tear gas.
Long: She inhaled
And it, oh, for days, days, could not get it out of her system.
And couldn't get it out of her clothes. She just never did
get over that tear gas. I mean, that tear gas carried her
away from here. Hosea was it, that night.
Now, this is Hosea? Who?
Long: He was
doing what? Tell me about him.
he was in the march that night, when [they] got tear-gassed.
had they intended to do? They were going to march on what?
they were just having a march. I don't know exactly what it
was for, now, but anyway, they staged a march.
Long: Did they
march on the courthouses?
yeah. But this was at night, and I don't know if they was
going to the courthouse that night, or where they were going.
They were just having a mass meeting in the streets, I think.
And, they was tear-gassed. Lord, they was tear-gassed! Oh.
My mother never did get over it.
Long: Get over
Now, your mother never did get arrested, though, did she?
Because my son told them, "No, you can't take her." [He] said,
"I'll go in her place, but you can't take her." [He] said,
"My grandmother's not going."
she never was arrested.
Long: Who was
your son? Who was that saying that?
And how many children did you have?
Long: In all.
but he's deceased, now.
And your husband's name was?
Haywood. And you had Freeman and who else?
Jimmi, Lawrence, Beverly, Stanley, and Carol.
Long: And only
one is deceased.
[Freeman is deceased.]
Long: And the
others are doing well?
Three boys, now, and three girls.
Because these are trying times, aren't they?
Lord. That is so true.
are trying times.
get back to that. You were saying that you saw the Meredith
March come here, and you said that James Meredith, that your
mother and your family washed his clothes and helped send
him on to Jackson, I suppose.
mother met the march; James Meredith did not come here. My
mother brought his clothes.]
did they come back? Is that what happened? They had an ending
of the march down in Jackson, Mississippi, I know. And then,
you were saying that you saw something else. That demonstration
started back here? Is that right?
he was coming from, toward Memphis. He was coming this way,
and got shot up the highway. And then, they [took him to the
hospital.] Well, he went to the hospital, but they picked
up the march and carried it on through.
Long: I see.
On through to Jackson?
Long: But if
the movement in Grenada started after Jackson, that means
they must have come back here. Don't you think? How did Hosea
and Leon Hall and Andy Young and Dr. King and Big Lester?
Can you name some of the people who were here?
yeah. Dr. King and Leon Hall and Cottonreader, and Big Lester.
Yeah, they was here. But during the time that James Meredith
got shot, they wasn't here at that time. I don't think. But
they came shortly afterward. But they had been here. They
had been here before then. Yeah.
What church had they been using mostly?
And then, starting using New Hope.
How many people would come to the mass meetings?
about thirty-five or forty. Then they started picking up,
picking up, picking up till got around about a hundred. Yeah.
Mostly older people? Or middle age? Or young people? Who was
some were kind of young. Wasn't too many teenagers at that
time would come, but middle age and elder people would come.
Long: Had any
of them been with the NAACP? Or were they just ordinary citizens?
ordinary citizens. Because they didn't even know anything
about the NAACP until Cottonreader and them come here.
So, you're saying in Grenada, there was no real movement here
until that time.
no. No movement at all.
Long: Why do
you think that black folks hadn't done anything at that time?
just really don't know, but they hadn't did anything. But
after they come and got us started, well, then, they just
kept going forward.
your mother vote?
She had went up there, and they'd give all kinds of old, hard
tests, and she would pass them, and then they would say, "Well,
you got to take it over." And she would go back, and every
time they'd go up on the price, you know, and all of that.
But she eventually got a chance to vote.
She voted before she--? When did she actually vote? What year?
Long: Do you
remember when she died?
yeah. She died the tenth of December in seventy.
Long: In seventy.
So, was it ten or more years before that she voted? Or when?
I just wanted to see the period when she got a chance to vote
and go to the polls. I'll ask this question: did she get a
chance to vote for John F. Kennedy?
She voted for John. F. Kennedy.
believe the first time she voted was in sixty-three.
Yeah. The first time she got to vote.
Long: And you
don't know what the issue was then? What she was voting for?
sixty-four was the presidential election.
Long: But she
voted as early as sixty-three.
Long: So, does
that mean that she passed the test?
She passed the test. Yeah.
Now, did any of--? We talked about integration of schools.
Did any of the children that you knew go to an integrated
school back in the 1960s?
yeah. My kids went.
they went to John Rundle. That was the all-white school.
What year did they? After it was integrated? Was it the first
or second or third year? Can you remember? I mean, was it
believe it was about the third year. I believe. I'm not positive.
What had happened to people who went, the first people who
went to integrate the school? Did they do all right?
They got beat up.
me, just, about it. I'm going to let you just talk and tell
me about what you heard.
they were saying, "The niggers are not going to this school.
This is our school. This is our town, and we're going to run
it." And so, they just would be up there with the chains and
the bats and things and would just beat them down.
Yeah. Who were these people?
didn't actually know any of them.
Long: Did they
say they were Klansmen? Or did they say they were with any
they didn't say, but I'm pretty sure they were.
Long: And where
did that actually happen? At what place?
was right up, right across there on College Street. Right
over there at John Rundle. It was right off of College.
Long: The children
who tried to integrate, they had come from what? What used
to be the all-black school?
Long: And what
was that called?
Dotson and Willa Wilson.
Wilson. And your children were over there at that school?
with all that happening, how could you decide to send your
children to a school outside the community? Did you think
it was going to be safe by the time that you sent them? Or
what did you think? What would a mother and a father think?
And why would they send their kids to a school during that
we wasn't sure it was going to be safe, but by the civil rights
workers being in here, we thought maybe they wouldn't be as
bad. Which they wasn't, at the time, but you just had to take
a chance. Well, you know, you just think like this: "If it's
not worth dying for, it's not worth living for." And so, you
just have to put the good Lord in front and just think for
OK. Now, did you feel that your children would get a better
education in that school? Or what was your feeling about the
quality of the school?
Because I knew it was better books. And, you know, you just
want the best for your child. Sometimes you just have to take
a chance, you know, but I knew there were better books and
better everything over there, than there was in these all-black
Now, how'd you know there were better books?
I just felt like it.
But did your kids get books, hand-me-down books from--?
So, you saw some of the books that they no longer used?
Long: And they'd
be just what? Used books?
just old hand-me-down books. Just used, almost tore up.
And who used the new books?
whites be getting the new ones.
So, then you felt that there was a better opportunity in the
other school because they had better equipment.
What else? Was there any other reason that you thought that,
"I'm going to risk sending my child here?"
I just really wanted my child to have as good an education
as anybody. And if there's a will, there's a way. And I just
wanted them to get the best. Whatever. So.
Long: And with
that education were they able to go on and try to go to college,
any of them?
yeah. Uh-huh. Some of them went to college. Yeah.
did they go?
my son, he's in service, now. He finished over there at Valley
State. And my daughter, she's in Virginia. She went to college
in Virginia. And another one of my daughters, she's still
going here [to Holmes College]. And my oldest son, he went
to Itta Bena. So, if you don't push for it, you just will
not accomplish a thing. So, you just have to take a chance
on some things.
Tell me about your own education as a factor in trying to
get a quality education for your children. You went to school,
you said, at a--? Where did the school bus drop you?
bus? Oh, Lord! The white kids passed by and spit on us! We
were walking in the cold. And a lot of times, we had to go
to school, turn around and come back because it wasn't no
wood there. And what little we learned had froze out before
we got back home. Oh, boy, it was rough. I tell you. It was
Long: And you
had to do that for nine months out of the year?
yeah. And I tell you, you go and register when school started,
but you'd do good to see the inside of a school till the last
of December, because you'd be out there picking that cotton,
and pulling corn, and what have you. It was rough. No school
bus. No, Lord. No, indeed. We walked every single day, and
that's why I was pushing for my kids not to come the way I
Walked to school.
every single day.
Long: And was
that a pot-bellied stove in the middle?
you know it was. (Laughter.) Yes, indeed.
did you use, wood? Or coal?
and have to go out and get it.
to go out and get it. That's the reason we had to go back
home so many days because the trustees didn't have wood there.
Long: The trustees
could not provide the wood for the school?
Long: And sometimes
the school was closed down because people were working?
did they close it down? They closed it for what two different
times? If you were doing a cotton crop?
they would open in September. That's when you registered,
but still you really wouldn't get to go until the last of
December or the first of January. And then you'd go until
about the middle of March. And then you had to stop and go
to knocking stalks and getting ready for plowing, and then
you'd go maybe two days out of a week, or maybe one. And then
go back to the field. So, that's just the way it was.
they didn't make you have to do that, did they?
yes, I did! Oh, yes, I did.
Long: But wouldn't
you have been special? Being able to cook and clean and stuff
like that? You went to the field.
went to the field. Oh, I'd go back and cook, now. I'd go back
to the house and cook, and then I would go back to the field.
That's just the way life went.
does sound hard.
was hard. Real hard.
Do you think that your children's life was better than your
I know it. Oh, of course. Of course.
me an example.
they had more than we had. Because, now, they didn't have
to stay out of school. Not for anything. Now, they could go.
Only time mine missed was when they was sick. But other than
that, they was there every day. Every day.
Long: I see.
And they didn't have to go chop cotton?
Long: So, the
school didn't close for them.
close for them. They was there daily.
Did you have a better shot than your parents in education?
Did you have a better chance than your parents?
really don't think so. Because, I don't know how they survived,
but somehow, looked like some of them got to go more than
we did. They didn't have to go to the field as often as we
So, why? I mean, I need to understand why y'all had to go
to the field more than your folks had to go. Tell me about
yeah. They had to go. But they got to go to school a little
bit more than we did.
Long: I see.
Can you tell me why?
my mother's uncle raised them. He had got his own place, and
they didn't just have to go. Him and his older family would
do the work and let them go to school. So, therefore, we were
So, then, your mother and father were brought up with a better
educational opportunity and less work than you were?
to be honest with you, my mother raised us. I didn't really
know anything about my father too much until after he got
sick, and then I had to take him. He passed with me.
Long: And that
was in Coffeeville?
And you had mentioned his name. He was?
Long: I see.
Finally, let me--. I'm going to ask you some questions where
if you were telling a story, you would just go on and talk
until you got tired. (Laughter.) Now, I know you don't talk
a whole lot, but since I'm asking questions, then you'll wait
for me to ask the questions. Tell me about something that
you may want to talk about as it relates to the questions
that I've asked. About your experience. You can jump back
and forth. You can do it any kind of way you want to. But
go on and let me sit back and listen to you talk about the
civil rights movement or growing up in Mississippi or something
that you want, if I was going to put something on the shelf
that represented you. Can I have you do that? Are you willing
to risk that? I'll listen. And after I count ten is when I
may ask a question, anyhow. But I like the way you have done
this interview, and I feel kind of like I may be interrupting
some of your thoughts. So, I'm going to let you go on and
just talk. And you can ramble if you want to. You can gossip
if you have to. (Laughter.) You can do whatever. I'm going
to sit here and listen. Where you think you want to start?
I see you have something written in front of you. You can
do whatever you want to. (Brief silence.) That's a good place
to start. (Laughter.) Go right ahead. (Brief silence.) Go
on, Ms. Annie. Go on.
what are you talking about, now? My growing up? Or what?
you may want to talk about here. Because I wanted some thoughts
that were just your own.
I really think if people would pull together and not against
each other and get this thing to going and everybody pull
one way and not pull against each other, you know, I think
things would be much better. You know. For instance, say,
a black running against black. I don't think they should do
that. They really shouldn't do it because that splits up the
votes and stuff like that. You know. I [think that we] ought
to get on one accord, and try to work things out for the best.
And you know a lot of times we do things against ourselves.
So, everybody should try to get together, and it would be
a much, much better world for everybody. But like it is, I
don't know. Look like they want to pull against each other.
And that's not right. Everybody should pull together and it
would be a much better world.
Now, Mr. Neely, he's been out
there. He's been struggling down through the years. And some
sticks with him and some don't. And that's wrong. You know.
But everybody should pull together. And I think we would get
things over. We been struggling and struggling a long time.
Somehow look like they're backing up. So, I don't know if
it's happening like that every place, but I tell you, look
like they're backing up here. Before they know it, things
are going to be right back like it was. We're just going to
have to put the good Lord in front and keep on. Because if
it wasn't for Him, we couldn't make it.
I hate you caught me with my
thinking cap off! (Laughter.)
all right because what you just said was wonderful.
But we got so far to go. We've come a long ways, but we've
still got a long journey.
were people in one accord? Did you see some of that when your
mother was out there trying to--?
it looked like it was more pulling together then than there
is now. Look like they falling back, now. Yeah. Look like
some is falling back. Some is still trying to go forward,
but it's some pulling back. Yes, I tell you. Just one of those
things. If you don't keep on pushing it, nothing will never
accomplish of it.
Long: Who were
some of the local leaders back then, during the time when
people were in more one accord, as you put it?
there was Mr. George Bingham, and Ms. Essie Mullins[?], Mable
Wilberton, but she's deceased.
Long: You say
I should interview Mr. Bingerton[?], if I can?
Long: OK. What
kind of aims did they have, and have we met some of them?
I mean, think about that time. About the time some of the
people that you talked about were trying to go forward. What
was it that you kind of wanted? And what did they seem to
say they wanted?
you know, for instance, equal rights, because if I'm working
beside a white person, and he's getting the most pay, well,
that's not right. We doing the same type of job. So, if we're
doing the same work, why shouldn't we get the same pay? So,
that's what we were pulling for. You know. Somehow it don't
seem to be working out so hot.
Long: So, tell
me some of the work you did during that time. I heard about
how you were feeding the civil rights people, that they said
you prepared the best table--.
my Lord! (Laughter.)
you learn how to cook?
my mother. And then I started working in restaurants and just
yeah. I fed a-many of them, now. I'll tell you. I fed a-many
of them. And will do it right today, if any of them come back.
I sure will.
did they come for seconds on? There was some special thing,
I heard, that you used to fix. You say you fixed chicken,
and what else could you cook?
green peas, and pork chops. Oh, Lord, I never would name it
all, now. Peach cobbler, and, you know, stuff like that.
Let's say I'm Dr. King, sitting here, and I'm waiting for
you to bring me something to the table. What would you bring
him? Or what would he ask for? This is Dr. Martin Luther King.
(End of tape one, side one.
The interview continues on tape one, side two.)
now, Dr. King, I've never known him to ask for anything special.
He just liked soul food, period. But, now, I never did cook
for Dr. King. But now, he just liked the soul food.
Long: I see.
So, I was just trying to use him as an example. Hosea, Andy,
Big Lester, now, he'd eat you out of house and home, wouldn't
he? (Laughter.) Did you cook for any of them?
yeah. All of them. Uh-huh, and Cottonreader would tell you
he's hungry in a minute. (Laughter.)
what did you have to fix Cottonreader? I'm going to talk to
I'd be fixing him vegetables and meats, and whatever. Cottonreader
would eat most anything. Him and Leon Hall, too. Yeah, I enjoyed
cooking for them. Yeah, I sure did.
And their favorite dessert?
Long: And you
used your mother's recipes?
So, what you do that makes it so good?
now, I don't know about it being good, now, but, well, you
just use your butter, and your flavor, and sugar, and nutmeg
or whatever, you know. Just a little of both. But now, you
had to have your crust real short; if not, it's going to be
Now, how many would you have to fix up with all these people
coming in? You had to prepare a lot of food?
sometimes there'd be ten and twelve, and sometimes, more.
Long: Who would
be helping you in the kitchen, trying to feed these hungry
my mother. She would come in there and help me. And in the
summer, the ladies that were there, they would come in and
give me a hand in serving.
Long: Do you
actually know anybody who had cooked for Dr. King? An example
of somebody. Andy or any of them? That served them?
really don't know who served Dr. King.
Long: He was
staying, they say, over at Billy McCain's mother's house,
during one time. You actually saw him, though.
yeah. Billy McCain.
Long: Ms. McCain
over across from the school.
I know who you're talking about. Grace Hardiman. That's Billy's
maybe he did. But she's deceased.
She is. Now, I enjoyed when you just talked, just a minute
ago. I think I'm going to be quiet and let you do that one
more time. What do you want to talk about when we do that?
Is there something that you would like your children to have
had you say with regard to--. We're talking about freedom,
but we're talking about every day life, too. One of the things
I like to hear you talk about is getting fair pay, equal pay
for equal work. That was one thing. I mean, you were spirited
when you said that. (Laughter.) What jobs where you didn't
do that? They didn't provide that? Can you think of some times?
did you work?
worked at the Monte Christie, there where Cottonreader and
them used to come and eat.
Long: A black
Long: Oh, it's
an all-white café?
They integrated it while they were here, and I was cooking
at the time.
Did they come in before it was really open? Or, they didn't
integrate it, did they?
they did. They was the ones that integrated it.
Long: Did you
me. Now, we've got something we can talk about.
I saw some of them, the people come in there.
what was the name of the place, first?
Long: The Monte
Christie. And it's a white--?
eating place. And you were back there in the back, cooking.
in the back, cooking.
Now, tell me. Tell me that story.
we used to come in the back when we come to work, and then
go up there and punch the time clock. But after the civil
rights people came in here, we were going in the front door,
punching our cards. We had to go in and out of the back. And
they would come in there and load them civil rights workers
up and take them to jail. I'm there looking at them.
there in the restaurant?
In the restaurant.
Long: And what
would the civil rights people do?
but go on and go to jail.
just go on to jail. They didn't care? Just go on to jail.
go on to jail. And bond them out. My mother would go up there
and help to bond them out. And they'd get right back out there.
Go back to jail, again.
How long did it take them to integrate that restaurant?
how many times did they have to go to jail before they had
to open it?
they went about three or four times.
or four times.
they--this little hut right across there--they integrated
coming. Kept coming. And wasn't not one place integrated.
The black would go to the [back]. They had a little, old hole
cut. And they would go there, and that's where they'd push
their food, out that little hole. And that's where they put
they money, in that little hole. They couldn't go in.
Long: So, if
I wanted a piece of cobbler, I want some of your good cobbler
with that light crust, and I come to the door back in 1960.
I walk through the door. And I go in, and I say, "I want some
peach cobbler." What's going to happen, now?
some of the waitresses would serve you, and some wouldn't.
But, now, most likely, after you were served, they'd be out
there waiting on you to take you to jail. And they would come
in there and get them sometimes.
Drag them out.
and dragged them out. I remember Cottonreader was in there,
and he ordered a club sandwich, which is a three-deck.
Long: He ordered.
From whom did he order it? He ordered from?
is the white waitress?
a three-decker. And they fixed him a two-deck. And Cottonreader
told them he wasn't going to pay for it because it was a three-deck,
and they brought him a two-deck. And when they know anything,
the police was in there putting the handcuffs on him. Sure
were the people back in the kitchen saying? The help. What
were they saying about that? Or did they wait till they got
away from there to say it? What were they thinking?
you really want to know?
I really do.
two of the black that was working the sandwich table. They
fixed [the] two-deck and sat it up there, and the white waitress
said, "Well, I'm not going to take it out there." Said, "Because,
now, you know he looked at the menu. He know it's a three-deck."
"Take it on out there. He didn't
have no business in here."
Now, that was our color. Sure
did. And so, they wouldn't fix the three. And so she carried
it on out there, and Cottonreader told them it was supposed
to have been a three-deck.
Long: And he
wasn't going to pay for it.
he didn't. He ended up going to jail, though. I was looking
at it. I sure was.
what if he had gone on around to the back? What was that back
there? You say there was a way, there was a little, that they'd
yeah. Well, when we would go to work, we would go in the back
door. It was a back door for them to come in there, but they
had to sit back in the back and eat.
Long: I see.
And if you wanted to take it to go, there was a little place
cut back there.
yeah. You could take it to go.
Long: But you
couldn't, just like a regular person, you didn't have a choice?
no. Oh, no. And drinking out of a fountain. No. Mm-mm. Couldn't
drink out of no fountain. No. Or restroom? White only. Now,
these service stations around here, you could buy all the
gas you want, but white only. That's just like the buses,
had them little black signs up there that further go back,
go back. And get filled, you got to get up and give the white
people your seat. And the same thing happened to Rosa Parks.
And she was determined that she wasn't going to get up. (Laughter.)
one am I looking at, now?
her. Yes. That's her.
Long: You look
kind of like her. (Laughter.) She's saying what? What did
Parks said her feets were tired. She'd got off work. Her feets
was tired, and she was not going to get up and give that white
man her seat. And that's where they got started. That's when
they integrated those buses.
was down in what part of Alabama?
it Selma? Or Montgomery? Montgomery. Montgomery.
Now, you back there. Now, you were actually back in the kitchen,
most of the time?
Long: You were
cooking all the time.
Long: Who washed
they had some dishwashers.
dishwashers, cooks, salad girls, and bus boys and what have
Long: And this
was? What was the name of the place, again?
Long: Is it
it's a bank, now.
a bank. Uh-huh. That's interesting. That's ironic, in fact.
But it was a kind of a high class place.
yeah. Supposed to have been the highest class one around here
until they built the Holiday Inn.
So, what did they like for you to fix back there in the kitchen?
What did the people who owned the place, what did they count
on you for?
cooking the steaks and making rolls and stuff like that. But
they had salad girls to make the salads and stuff like that
so I just, you know, I fixed the rolls, and steaks, and chickens,
and all the seafood, like stuffed crabs and oysters, and stuff
like that. Frog legs, fish. Just name it.
So, any fried food, you can do it.
yeah. Well, we had to fix vegetables, too. Turkey and dressing.
style did you count on? Whose cooking style? When you came
out into the public cooking, who did you cook like?
mother, I guess. (Laughter.) That's the only one I know.
Had she cooked for somebody? Or, how did she learn how to
cook that good?
she just mostly cooked for churches and different things like
that. She never worked in a restaurant.
And what was the name of the cooking school you went to?
didn't. (Laughter.) Unless someone said, "Rosie Walker's School."
(Laughter.) No, I didn't go to no cooking school.
you could cook good.
I wouldn't say that, but I got by.
did you eat your own cooking?
yeah. Oh, yeah. I got by.
made a good steak? I mean, how you make a steak that you want
now, mine had to be medium-well. But, now those rare ones
and medium-rare, and well and medium-well and all that, I
couldn't handle them.
the other people coming in to eat that.
folks like their steak cooked.
and medium-well. Uh-uh.
couldn't handle that.
Long: But they
love it. "Oh, that's a good steak."
yeah. I couldn't handle it. No, indeed.
Long: But you
could cook it?
yeah. I could cook it, but sure wouldn't dare eat it.
Long: For yourself.
Long: And how
did you make your crust be light? Say on your cobbler?
you make it with ice water.
yeah. Ice water. And had to have plenty of shortening, now,
because if you don't have plenty of shortening, [it will be
tough]. Well, make it with plain flour and put salt in it,
but no baking powder.
Long: I see.
That's something. But ice water.
Make it with ice water.
that do? I don't understand.
(Laughter.) Did you know that before you came to work there?
Or was that something you learned there? Did y'all have flaky
crust at your house?
Uh-huh. So evidently I learned it before I went there. If
not, I finished learning it there. Whatever. (Laughter.) Because
I had so much of it to do.
you were saying that not everybody got the same amount of
money for the work they did.
there any cooks who were not black cooks, at all?
everybody was black. All black cooks.
Long: Did they
get the same thing?
The one that was there the longest, that's the one [who got
paid the most money].
Long: Who got
the more money? And then, the one there the shortest got the--?
end. Now, how did the cooks' money compare with the waitresses'
the waitress would get a lot of tips. Uh-huh. And then, they
would make so much an hour. You know.
Long: I see.
So, if the food was good, and the service
was good, they'd get a better tip.
So, and those people--I remember the man who made the sandwich
two-tier rather than three-tier--he was old time? Or young
time? What was he? The man who sent out Cottonreader a two-tier?
oh, oh. That was two ladies!
Long: Oh, really?
him out a--?
did. I know that's a fact because I was there. Oh. I was steamed
were they trying to prove, though? They were trying to prove
Yeah. Being a fool. (Laughter.)
"Got no business in here. He
has no business in here."
Oh, I could have just--. Whew!
Long: All they
had to do just make the sandwich?
the sandwich. And that was it. And now the waitress, she told
them that she didn't want to serve it. Because, she said,
"Now, you know he looked at the menu, and he knows it's a
three-deck." But, they carried that two-deck out there.
And talking about, "Make him
pay for it. He doesn't have no business in here."
I said, "Oh, Jesus. This is
And after the civil rights movement, they benefitted. They
made more money.
Long: You know
who they are, now, don't you?
right at them. And the same two that found out that I went
to Dr. King's funeral. That's the nearest I come to getting
fired, but I didn't care.
me about that. Dr. King was killed up in--?
Tennessee. April the fourth.
Long: And you
heard about it?
Long: And what
did you decide?
I don't know what I decided right then and there because I
almost lost my mind, but I had that one day off on a Tuesday,
and we went to his funeral, and I had to be back at work that
Wednesday. And we got to Ebenezer's Church at 4:30 that morning,
and we stood in line from then till 8, before we got in to
view the body. And then, I walked all the way from Ebenezer
Church over to Morehouse College, behind the old mule.
you see up there with the mule? Hosea?
Hosea was one.
Long: Did you
see any people who had been here?
Lester there? I was trying to think who had those horns and
was singing so.
Long: I was
in Atlanta that same time because I had to be there. They
were holding arms. Harry Belafonte, Ms. King, and folks up
at the beginning, up at the front end. John Lewis was there.
But Harry Belafonte is who I remember. And now, Andy. I remember
him there. And then they had the mule and the wagon he was
on. But I remember Hosea. Hosea was right there.
Long: And James
Bella[?]. But you might not have known him.
Long: And then
there was somebody from the government who came down. The
vice president or someone who came down. I can't exactly remember,
Kennedy was there.
Kennedy. That's who was there. Mm-hm. And you saw these people,
and you were marching, too.
I was right there.
Long: Why do
you think Dr. King was [assassinated]? Why would they shoot
somebody like that? I mean, he's a peaceful man.
they thought he was going to be president, I guess. That was
one of the reasons, but I tell you one thing. It's not over.
It is not over. Because James Earl Ray, if he did it, he didn't
act alone. He didn't act alone, so, he can tell all his friends
it's not over because it's coming up again. Because God's
sure going to fix it. Oh, yes, he will. I mean he didn't bother
[nobody]. He was for everybody.
you know, he gave up his life trying to help everybody. And
we shouldn't let him die in vain.
you squeezed into the church to hear him talk, one time?
did, people just, they just sit there or what kind of preacher
was he? Did he arouse folks with words?
yeah, because what he was saying. You know, he was mostly
telling them how to go about living better. You know. And
what to do. And, you know, but he never wanted no violence.
Never wanted no violence. Now, they can't say he taught violence
because he never did teach no violence. He was just for peace,
but he wanted everybody equal. And that's what he died for.
Long: And he
died for you and for your children. He died for me.
gave up his life for us, and we shouldn't let him die in vain.
Yes, sir. He struggled.
Now, the movement in Grenada moved on after his death. It
did move on.
do you think is the difference between when they came, and
now, and after Dr. King's death, here in this area? In Grenada?
it was a lot of difference after he came here. [After he],
I won't say, "died"--after he got killed, well, then it started
slipping back. You know. Kind of slipping back, but if we
all stick together and keep pushing it, it'll have to go forward.
It'll have to go forward because it's not near as bad as it's
been. Because I'll tell you, it's been a struggle.
you're not cooking, now, are you?
Long: OK. About
how long ago did you stop cooking?
Uh-huh. Why did you decide to stop?
was doing what four was doing. After they had to pay us, and
cut us down to eight hours. Now, we wasn't working eight hours.
We was working from six till six, or whatever. Or if they
got real busy, you had to turn around and go back. But after
they cut us down to eight hours, then they had to pay minimum
wage. So, they just laid off everybody around here, and I
was doing what four was doing.
people. I said, "It's time to go." And I got to hiking. (Laughter.)
place were you cooking at then?
the Monte Christie. The last place I worked was at the Country
Kitchen. Yep. That was too much, too much, too much.
Just too much.
much. One person doing what four was doing and getting the
same pay. Same pay. I said, "Well, Lord, I didn't have nothing
when I come in. I sure ain't going to have nothing when I
leave." (Laughter.) "But a tired back." (Laughter.) So, glory
Long: You had
worked in the fields all day. You'd get up as early as seven,
you said, over in Coffeeville.
in the field at seven.
Long: I see.
You be there. And then you work until?
a lot of people worked from dusk to dawn, but, uh-uh. Like
the old saying says, "A man works from sun to sun, but a woman's
work is never done." Because when you go home, you still got
to cook and do. You know. So, there's just no rest for the
weary. Just got to keep going. And there's a child hollering.
You got to see about this one. Do that. Oh, Lord have mercy!
Tough struggle. I done all the work, and
the white folks putting it all in their pocket. That's a shame.
Long: But you
do have retirement. You have some retirement.
Well, I'm happy for you and for your children because they
feel that you are secure. You won't have to walk around. You're
not walking around Heaven all day, now. (Laughter.)
no, no, no, no, no. Still have to kind of move about, though.
But still, you know.
Long: I appreciate
you letting me come into your house. I'm going to end the
interview here, and, this is not a radio interview. This is
going to Tougaloo College Archives, but when it is put together,
even though we have some pauses, it's going to be a good interview,
because it tells someone who was right there during the time
of Grenada's transformation. Who saw it sometimes from the
kitchen, who saw it at the churches, who went to see Dr. King
be put away as a martyr to the freedom struggle has spoken
from her own eyes and her own mouth what her eyes have seen,
and what her mouth, had to say about those things. And I am
moved by it, and I want to thank you. Is there anything you
want to add? It's your--. On the telephone, they say, "It's
your dime." (Laughter.) I was trying to make--. You've got
some stuff written there, and I was just wondering.
this is just about the different places my mother went. Yeah,
that was just what that was about.
Long: You want
to read some of it, and we'll put that on there. Quote her.
Read it for me.
this is what they had mass meeting in the homes, I--.
Long: Who wrote
she went to the John Rundle School, but she marched with Dr.
King. You know. And she went to Alabama, Georgia, Washington,
D.C., Florida, and many other Mississippi towns. And she met
James Meredith and washed his clothes.
is James Meredith.
Meredith, right. Mm-hm. Yeah. And she bonded people out of
jail. So, I was trying to get something named after her. One
of those parks or something, but you know how people do, so
I never did get anything named after her, so I said, "Oh,
well." Folks is something.
Long: But she
was early in the struggle.
yeah. Lord, she went to Virginia and all these different places.
I mean, she--. Yeah. Because I thought she was staying in
Atlanta, and [before I knew] anything, she had took a plane
and gone to Washington. Yeah.
was before Dr. King's death?
Long: So, they
counted on her.
Long: So, who
was some of the people other than her that Dr. King and other
people would count on? Your mother, Mrs.? What was her name?
and Mr. George Bingham, as I said.
And Mr. Essie Mullin[?]. And, well, Ms. Mable Wilberton.
Long: And some
of the others have passed.
Long: OK. But
I want to thank you for this interview that goes into Tougaloo
College Archives on civil rights history, and thank you for
letting me come into your home and eat on the table where
they fed civil rights movement people.
though you didn't get nothing. (Laughter.)
I'm sitting at the welcome table. (Laughter.)
(End of the interview.)