interview was transcribed as part of the Civil Rights Documentation
Funding for this
project was provided in part by the Mississippi
the National Endowment for the Humanities, and
Department of Archives and History.
Mr. Matt Suarez was born in
New Orleans, Louisiana, in 1938. His parents both worked--his
father as an attendant to a veterinarian and his mother as
a domestic. As a child, Mr. Suarez grew up in the seventh
ward of New Orleans. He witnessed an exodus into the suburbs
of most of the tradesmen residing there, leaving behind the
In the late fifties, Mr. Suarez
served briefly in the Navy. After being discharged, he lived
in Los Angeles, frequenting the coffeehouses and joining in
the philosophic discussions cultivated there. About the time
the first sit-ins were occurring in the South, Mr. Suarez
returned to his native New Orleans, where he joined the civil
rights movement through CORE and SNCC. From there, he moved
to Mississippi and helped organize the movement throughout
the state. He was the first state director of the Freedom
When CORE refused to take a
position against the Vietnam War, Mr. Suarez withdrew from
that organization. Back in New Orleans, he ran for some offices,
worked in campaigns, and headed a political action caucus.
During his political activities, he was involved in voter
registration and the establishment of some positive programs,
including a freedom school, food bank, after-school tutorials,
and summer camp program.
Currently Mr. Suarez, his wife,
and two of his children own and run a child development center
in New Orleans.
First encounters with racism
Navy service 3
Oretha Castle 6
Picketing on Canal Street 8
From New Orleans to Mississippi
George Raymond in Canton 12
C.O. and Minnie Chinn 12
Mrs. Annie Devine 13
Neshoba County, 1994 15
Post-traumatic stress 16
Freedom Democratic Party 19
Freedom Summer, 1964 22
CORE convention, 1966 23
Political campaigning 24
Philosophy of educating young
Rainbow child development center
AN ORAL HISTORY
This is an interview for
the Civil Rights Documentation Project. The interview is with
Mr. Matt Suarez and is taking place on March 26 and 30, 2000.
The interviewer is Harriet Tanzman.
[I'm] talking with Matt Suarez in New Orleans, Louisiana,
and this is March 26, .
Thanks, Matt. OK. Thanks for coming. Matt, can you tell me
a little about your early life, your family, and when and
where you were born?
Suarez: I was
born here in New Orleans in what is called the seventh ward,
traditionally identified as a Creole base. You find most of
the residents of this area, at least at the time I was a child,
were the tradesmen. They were the plasterers, the ladders[?],
the cement finishers, the tile setters, the slate workers,
that kind of thing. You know. Some of them were still doing
iron-work. Some bricklayers. I mean, carpenters. All of that
came out of this area.
were you born?
what kind of work did your folks do?
mother was a domestic, and my father was an attendant in a
veterinarian hospital, veterinarian clinic.
OK. When you were growing up, when you were small, that was
in the beginning of the forties, I guess. Early forties. Yeah.
Could you tell me a little about how your own awareness of
race, racism, and segregation--how did that come into play?
Suarez: I guess,
my first experience, the first time I was impacted significantly
by it, was at around nine or ten years old. At that time,
there were still a number of whites living, sprinkled throughout
the seventh ward, and the housing patterns were fairly well-integrated.
I mean, not really integrated, but there were whites living
in practically every block. At least one family, maybe. And
it was about that time that, even though we played in the
streets together, and, you know, the yards together, there
started to be some separation, and two things happened. One
was a birthday party for a little white girl that used to
live on Praya[?] Street, I think, where none of the black
kids were invited. And the other was a white kid that played
with us all the time, played ball and whatever, had grey eyes.
And I said something. We had a little cardboard clubhouse,
and I said something about his eyes looking like a cat. I
said, "With them gray eyes." Not aware that it would be taken
personally and given a racist flair to it. But that's what
happened. He took it as an insult, thought I was making a
comment about his being white, and I guess, everyone did,
because when he left, the other black guys around me said
something about it. I shouldn't have said that and whatever.
And I still was unaware that it was an insult. I didn't understand
why they were all so upset. But that and the fact that we
began to go our own ways, or at least the white kids' parents
started to pull them away was when I first became aware that
there were some life-altering changes about to happen. You
you away from playing with them at all?
Yeah. Several things were going on then. The development of
subdivisions were beginning to occur. New houses were being
built. Prior to that time, everyone lived in a shotgun, just
about. I mean, I guess 85 to 90 percent of New Orleans lived
in shotgun houses. But around the mid-forties, there--I guess
it was right after the second World War--they began to put
up these prefab houses. And they offered private bedrooms,
living room, dining room. You know. A little cottage-style
house, but most of the whites began moving into those, and
really segregating themselves. These houses weren't available
to blacks. About the end of the forties, the early fifties,
blacks began to move into a new home, newly-constructed home,
I guess I should say. About the middle fifties, there was
established or constructed the first black
subdivision, as such. Real black subdivision, because prior
to that time, there was a black millionaire here, Adam Highdell[?],
who was building some of the same type houses that whites
were getting into, prefab, but he was building them for blacks
out in Gentilly. In the Gentilly area. And then came the development
of--oh, I just said the name, and I can't remember it, now.
But anyway it was the first subdivision, real subdivision
with new homes, new streets, sewers, lighting, and all of
that. And what you found was that the people who could afford
it, were the people from right here in the seventh ward, all
of the tradesmen. They were the ones with the decent incomes.
So, there was an exodus of whites, followed by an exodus of
blacks. You know. And what happened was those of us who were
really poor, were left in the seventh ward.
your family stayed here?
yes. Yes. (Laughter.) We were poor. (Laughter.) Not poor,
when you were pretty young, were you or some of your friends
involved at all with--? Did you go to the movies? And what
kind of reactions did you all have? Did you do individual
actions at all about segregation?
Yes. Yeah. Yeah. All of the theaters were segregated. Used
to be whites sitting downstairs, blacks sitting upstairs.
And I guess around twelve, thirteen, fourteen years old, we
began to encounter a lot of problems. A lot of insults. A
lot of "stay-in-your-place" kind of actions. And naturally,
you know, we rebelled against that in, I guess, the only ways
that we could think of at the time. And we used to do things
like take Coca-Colas and shake them up and squirt them all
over the folks downstairs. Or when we would go downtown, there
used to be--oh, I forget the name of this theater, now. There
was a movie theater downtown, and right around the corner,
there was a place, Virginia Kitchen, that used to sell meatball
sandwiches, and they would put them on French bread. And we
would tell them, "Put plenty gravy. Put plenty gravy on it."
And then we'd go and eat it, and squeeze it, hanging over
the balcony, and just let the gravy fall downstairs. (Laughter.)
them as uncomfortable as possible with having the privilege
(Laughter.) Yeah. You know. We did a lot of little things
like that as, I guess, a statement of protest, because there
really was a difference in treatment, you know. There really
was a difference in treatment. The attitude that a lot of
the theater owners, or at least their staff, had was, "If
you want to be here, you accept anything that we do to you.
And if not, then get your ass out." You know what I mean?
"We don't need you here."
they throw you out?
Suarez: A couple
of times, here and there, I was thrown out. You know. And
that was at the time when they used to have a lot of ushers,
and they had men ushers. You know what I
mean? Big men, like bouncers.
the theater. Yeah. And they threw us out.
I know you were in--was it the Navy? You were in the service
for a while. Was that right out of high school?
I'm sorry about that. The Navy was another awakening for me.
I was in trouble almost instantaneously in the Navy. I think
I was in six or eight hours, and I was in jail. You know.
And it continued throughout my tour. In fact when I was released
from the Navy, they came and got me out of jail. (Laughter.)
were released while you were in the brig.
were always rebelling?
the captain called me, and he said, "Suarez, what am I going
to do with you?"
I said, "Let me go."
He says, "I'm leaving." He
says, "And I'm afraid the new captain is not going to be as
understanding as I am."
And I said, "I just want out."
He says, "My advice to you
is that you should sign up for another two years to try and
get your quarterly marks up." He said, "They're so low, there's
no way you're going to get out of here with an honorable discharge,
and you don't realize how that's going to impact your life."
I say, "Let me go!" (Laughter.)
He said, "You need to think
about this. Take some time."
I say, "Let me go!"
He say, "When?"
I say, "As soon as possible."
He say, "Tomorrow?"
I say, "Yeah." And we flew
off the ship the next morning because we were on our way to
Hawaii, I think. Or we were leaving Hawaii, on our way to
Japan. And flew back to San Francisco. Mm-hm. And that's where
I was discharged from.
we will be getting to you going to Mississippi, because that's
a lot of what I'd like to talk about, but I wonder what brought
you back home after that. You were, like, twenty? Twenty-one,
this was the beginning of the sixties?
Nineteen fifty-nine. I left, and I went out to California.
And I had decided pretty much that I was going to live out
on the beach--.
Yeah. Well, I really enjoyed the beach. It was Muscle Beach.
You know. POP. Pacific Oceanic[?] Park Beach. And they had
all of the weight lifters out there. All of the beauty queens.
All of the sculptors, the writers, and at that time--.
was in Venice? Venice, California?
Uh-uh. Los Angeles. Los Angeles. And at that time, they had
all these coffeehouses where everybody used to sit down and
discuss the world's problems. You know. They'd work on their
craft or their art for a couple of hours. Then, they'd come
to the coffeehouse, and then, they'd go back, and they'd work.
And the bodybuilders would be out there working out. And they'd
take a break and come in. Then, they'd go back. Everybody
was doing their thing, but we'd wind up staying in the coffeehouse
until two, three o'clock in the morning discussing world problems.
You know. (Laughter.) And I loved that life, but I don't know
what it was; we wound up, we gave a party, I think for New
Year's, that went on for about three days. And when I finally
got my head clear, I decided to come back home, and it was
right at the time when the sit-ins were beginning to take
mean throughout the South, and here?
I thought that folks were crazy. You know. I said, "Jesus."
I just didn't understand that, but I wanted to know more about
it. I wanted to find out what was going on, and there was
something calling me back home. I don't know. You know. Something
was calling me to come back to New Orleans.
be close to family? You don't think that was it.
Suarez: I don't
know. That could have been it, but I--. You have to understand
that all of the feelings, the bonds that are tied to family
had been instilled in me from a child, but at twenty-one,
there were a lot of other things that were attracting (laughter)
my interest, also. Stimulating my interest. You know. So,
family was definitely in there, but I don't know if it was
the priority at that time.
But something was pulling you back, and it happened to coincide
with--. It wasn't the sit-ins necessarily, but it coincided
with that. But you were curious about why they were--?
Yeah. I wanted to know more about, you know, what the sit-ins
were all about. You know. And why people were doing them.
At that time, I had a belief that if you became rich, race
be beyond where race could bother you?
Yeah. That you could buy--. Well, one of the things that I
understood about the capitalist society is that everybody
wanted the dollar, and for the dollar, they would do just
about anything or ignore just about anything. You know. I
understood that very young in life. And so, I concluded that
if you acquired enough wealth, that you could get beyond the
effects of racism.
Hm. Was that partly what you were taught? Or this is a conclusion
was a conclusion. And it was from observing dealings between
blacks and whites where whites who clearly wanted nothing
to do with black folks, or who didn't necessarily respect
black folks, did business with them or came into the black
community to do business or to get assistance when they wanted
things done, if it was involving money. Right?
And one of the things about what you would call the Creole
community of the seventh ward is that they did a lot of business
with white folks, being light-skinned. Whites preferred dealing
with them. Whites preferred hiring them. Whites preferred
using them, you know, to get done what they wanted to do.
on a personal level, you were thinking of if you became rich,
but you also wanted to check out what these crazy sit-in people
were [they]? You talked a lot with Oretha Castle?
that one of the people who influenced you a lot? Could you
tell me a little about her.
extraordinarily amazing woman. I think that if you know Barbara
Jordan, then you know Oretha. Right? I mean, that's the plane
she was on. Highly intelligent. Skills. I mean, unlimited
reservoirs of skills from inside. Totally self-confident and
dedicated to advancing black people. You know. I mean, she
was just unbelievable. She--.
met her when she was a student?
Yeah. She is one of those persons that rarely, if ever, failed
at anything. You know. She was so committed and so determined
that she just didn't let failure come into the equation. You
know. I mean, she was marvelous.
she had a big impact on you, Flukey?
yes. Yes. If it weren't for her, I may not have gotten into
the civil rights movement. You know? We spent--. And she used
to take her time. This is what was truly amazing about it,
is that after working all day, and taking care of all of her
other responsibilities, at ten-thirty, ten o'clock, eleven
o'clock, eleven-thirty, she would sit down to begin trying
to enlighten me. (Laughter.)
must have seen hope there. (Laughter.)
if you talk about, I mean, someone who was resistant,
it was me. Because I truly believed that the capitalist system
was the way. Right? And that was the solution for problems
that black people were incurring in America. That if we became
wealthy, we could hire white folks to do whatever we needed
done. (Laughter.) We could have white servants.
You know what I mean?
what was her vision like, as a contrast?
had a humanitarian philosophy. She was really opposed to capitalism.
She thought that Western civilization was shit, that it was
on a downhill slide, and that it was up to black people to
not only save themselves, but to save the country.
by organizing they would be the hope of a better life for
all in the country?
Yes. You know. Like I say, she was truly amazing. She was
talking to me when I was incapable of understanding what she
was saying, and she knew that. But she continued until I did
she really educated you.
certainly. Certainly. Like I said, I doubt very seriously
that I would have been involved in the civil rights movement
if I had not met her, and if she had not devoted the time
that she devoted to me. I may have been a card-carrying member
of the NAACP. You know. (Laughter.) But I doubt very seriously
that my active participation in CORE or SNCC would have been
anything near what it was. You know.
you gradually came into CORE in New Orleans, through her?
Right. She lured me in. (Laughter.)
was that the time of the sit-ins, about public accommodations?
Yeah. Well, they were picketing on Canal Street, and it was
primarily students at that time from Southern and Tulane.
A few from Loyola, who were picketing the stores on Canal
Street, and sitting in sometimes at the lunch counters, and
I began to make picket signs, drive people downtown. You know,
bring picket signs to them or take people here or there or
carry a group home from the meeting. And things, you know,
very slowly--. Like I say, she lured me in with little, minor
tasks here and there, just gradually sucked me on in. You
you weren't out on the street, though? You weren't doing the
did you think of nonviolence at that time?
Suarez: I thought
you were absolutely stupid to let somebody
hit on you, spit on you, slap you, or throw anything on you,
and if anybody had attempted it, I would attempt to split
their heads open. You know. (Laughter.) And I told them that
I would never do that. You know. I said, "Now, I'll help you
in a lot of ways, and I'll do whatever I can to help you,
but I'm not getting out there. I'm sorry, because I ain't
letting nobody do that crap to me." You know?
did end up picketing?
Yeah. It was one fateful day they were marching from SUNO,
I think it was, and they were coming to Canal Street and trying
to bring the student body with them from the university, and
the police stopped them halfway and arrested everybody. Took
them to jail. And myself, and another white guy, Frank. I
forget Frank's last name. A Tulane student. Was it Tulane?
He was in engineering, I think, at Tulane, and he and I were
out there. I think I had a little secondhand Ford car at the
time. Ford Fairlane. And we had all of the picket signs there
waiting for them to come down and picket. And they had been
picketing Canal Street faithfully for, like, six months or
so. And when no one showed up to picket, I don't know what
happened. I just felt that it couldn't end. You know. We couldn't
miss a day. And so, Frank and I talked about it, and he took
one side of Canal Street, and I took the other. (Laughter.)
was your beginning, in fire, huh? (Laughter.)
baptism of fire? (Laughter.)
(Laughter.) That was it. So, well, I got some encouragement
there, too. Even though I was really frustrated out there,
and I was apprehensive, a lot of black people who were walking
by were saying positive things to me about it, and that they
wouldn't shop in the stores, or whatever, and then they were
some white guys who stood up there and looked like they were
thinking about coming and trying to do me something, and they
sort of gave me a sign. I forget, really, now. It was so long
ago, what happened, but I know that it was a sign of encouragement.
But then there were three white women who stood up and watched
me, and they were talking. And every time I passed by them,
they were talking and talking, and finally, they came over
to me, and I think they were from Germany from their accents.
But they spoke English, and they said they were very happy
to see me out there. That they would never go in that store
and spend a dime. And keep up the good work, or whatever.
You know? And all the time, I'm thinking, "They're coming
over here, and if they spit on me," (laughter,) "I'm going
to wrap this picket sign around their heads." (Laughter.)
Yeah. Yeah. Yeah. So, my first experience turned out to be
very positive. And after that, it was like, you know, I was
in. I was hooked. Yeah. I was gone, then.
Mm-hm. Did you have meetings over at homes? At Oretha Castle's
home? That's O-R-E-T-H-A?
You have to understand that I guess the only way the general
public could relate to it is to understand a gang-related
kind of thing. You know, where you give up everything else,
and you become a member of the gang. And you're there all
day, every day, all night, every night. And that's the way
it was. It became my life. You know. I was at 917 North Tonti
half the day and three-quarters of the night.
what was there? Was that her family home?
That was her family's home, but that was the center of all
CORE activities. Everybody who came to town, came there. All
of the meetings, just about, took place there. Now, there
were mass meetings that took place in churches around town,
but anyone who wanted to know anything or see anyone or contact
anyone, went to 917.
And her family was very supportive?
yes. Yes. It was unbelievable how supportive they were. I
mean, at the time I took it all for granted. You know, it
wasn't until later on, when I got settled in my own home,
and just the number of civil rights friends who were coming
through town that were dropping in and staying with me and
that kind of crap, that I understood what those people did
and endured to accommodate, you know, civil rights workers.
Because it was unbelievable. They would be sleeping in (inaudible)
and Johnny B.'s[?] bed, and Johnny B. would come home from
the river front at twelve-thirty, one o'clock at night, and
have to push somebody over or squeeze him a space or get a
chair to sleep in because there'd be people throughout his
whole house on the floor, on the sofas. You know. That kind
of thing. Oretha and I would still be at the kitchen table
talking. You know. (Laughter.)
I mean. It was one night, James
Baldwin came here for something. And he and I were still talking
at, like, five o'clock in the morning. And he had missed his
plane, and he chartered a jet to fly out because we stood
there at that kitchen table, talking the entire night. Right?
At 917. And that's just the way it was. People were always
there, around the clock. They were there, and they were always
doing something. You know. And her mother cooked and fed them.
She gave them a place to stay. She even gave her kids money
to help get leaflets printed or, you know, things of that
nature. It's just, like I say, unbelievable. That's the only
word I can think of to look back on it, now, and see what
they did. The contribution that they made, and the inconvenience
in their lives that all of this provided.
must have had a very deep belief in it themselves, you know?
Yeah. But I think it was more of a belief in their children.
In their daughter, really.
Oretha and her sister--?
Yeah. Yeah. Both of them.
they were just being very supportive of their own children,
whatever they did.
Yeah. Right. Right.
some of the people in Mississippi. You had this intense around-the-clock
life. What drew you out of here to Mississippi and drew some
of the other CORE workers? Was this at a time that things
were changing here or was it just that people were recruited
to go in the early sixties?
Things were changing in Mississippi. We had two people who
were in Mississippi, Dave Dennis and George Raymond[?]. George
was working up in Sunflower County. In fact, George got Fannie
Lou Hamer to come off the plantation. A lot of people don't
know that, but George Raymond is the one went on the plantation
up there, got her, and brought her off.
didn't] know that.
George Raymond was the organizer up there that really began
the movement up there in Sunflower County. Well, he was catching
holy hell. He was catching holy hell up there. They were running
George ragged. And Dave was in Mississippi.
from New Orleans? Both from Louisiana?
Right. Dave was in Greensborough, I believe, then. He had--.
No, I don't think he had moved. He had moved down to Jackson,
I think, maybe, and gotten an apartment, but he was still
primarily working up in Cleveland and in Greensborough. He
was with Amzie Moore and a couple of other people up there.
I forget, now. He was working with Aaron Henry and people
up there in the northern part of the state. Up in the Delta.
And they were crying for people to come up and help them.
You know. They were saying, "We need help. We need anybody
who is willing to come up." Whatever. Bump, bump, bump, bump,
And Jerome Smith[?] said to
me, said, "Man, why don't you go up there and give Dave a
hand?" (Laughter.) You look back and you think how young and
dumb you were. (Laughter.)
And I said, "OK." (Laughter.)
not know what you were getting into.
is 1962, was it?
Right. And threw my stuff in a duffel bag from the Navy. I
had a big old duffel from the Navy; still have it. We went
on. I forget. We drove up there. I don't know whose car we
were in, because Jerome doesn't drive, and doesn't own a car.
But I remember we drove up, and I started following Jerome
around the state just to become familiar with it and introduce
myself to folks and stuff like that. And wound up staying
on Tougaloo's campus. It was awkward for me because all of
a sudden I was thrown in the midst of all of these people
who identified themselves as SNCC. And--.
were CORE. (Laughter.)
you come to Canton from there? Is that when you went to Canton?
Canton was later. Canton was later. Canton was right after
Medgar was killed. Canton was in sixty-three. The summer of
sixty-three, I think. I had just finished the demonstrations
in Jackson, I think. We were marching downtown every day in
Jackson, and all of the kids from Lanier High School, we were
taking them, marching downtown. And I think I went to Canton
after that for that summer. George had come out of the Delta
and established the project in Canton, and he was catching
holy hell up there. And myself, [and] Doris came up from New
Orleans. Jean[?] came up from New Orleans. Jean Thompson[?].
We had three girls here, the Thompson sisters. And Jean Thompson
came up. Who else? Annie Moody was there. I think Annie Moody
was there when we got there for that summer. I forget.
had come over from Tougaloo. Yeah. Yeah.
so long ago. You know. I forget, now.
you said that he was catching holy hell. Was it enormously
repressive there towards the first people that got involved
in the movement? What was going on?
answer your question, yes. In a word, yes. (Laughter.) But
George was attempting to take people to the courthouse to
register to vote, and there were all kinds of reprisals taking
place against people who he was bringing to the courthouse.
Against him. He was being threatened, shot at, run off the
road, and all kinds of things like that was happening to him.
And he had really good connections there. When we got there,
we were introduced. I think, Doris and I went in together.
Jean didn't come till later. I think. But, we were introduced
to the Chinns[?], and C.O. Chinn had a barroom restaurant
that we were taken to and introduced to his family and his
wife Minnie Chinn. And what they said to us, I mean, immediately
upon meeting us, was that, "If you're hungry, you come here,
and you eat. If you need a place to stay, let us know. We'll
get you a place to stay. If you need to go somewhere, one
of us will drive you." You know. "Don't go anyplace alone."
They started telling us the rules out there. And sure enough,
his sons, his nephews, his cousins--this is C.O. Chinn I'm
speaking of--all of his family would take and drive us anyplace
we had to go. They watched over us like babies. I mean. It
was like having your own bodyguards. You know what I mean?
They watched over us.
they have arms in the car?
yes. Yeah. Yeah. There were other people, too, who really--.
I remember. I've forgotten a lot of them because I went back
to Meridian, and people were telling me stories about things
that we had did together, and I couldn't remember a darn thing.
But I remember there was a girl, Doris, who gave us everything
she had. I mean 100 percent, she was there with us. I think
Doris was from Jackson. I think Doris was from Jackson and
came up to Canton to work. But there was a local guy Eskell[?].
I heard he was killed in an automobile accident, and that
didn't surprise me because he used to drive at 100 miles an
hour. You know. He would take us anywhere we wanted to go.
Didn't matter how far it was. Whatever. He had a convertible,
C.O. and his family and some of the others were enormously
yeah. There was a guy, Washington, had a grocery store. And
he lent us a little cautious support, but his son was much
more accommodating to us. You know. It was the father, from
the older generation, being apprehensive and concerned, you
know, about reactions of whites if they found out he was giving
us some support. But his son, Young Roberson[?], was much
more, I guess, don't-give-a-damn. He was concerned that his
father might get hurt, or his father might lose his business,
but still, he did a lot more than his father did. And he was
there. He wasn't afraid to come out to the meetings or speak
at the meetings or, you know, get us housing. I think he gave
us a house to stay in for a while. There was a local funeral
director--I forget his name--who was supportive. Had done
a lot of stuff for George and did stuff for us while we were
was Mrs. Devine's role? Mrs. Annie Devine's?
Devine was the person who brought the community to us. Who
went out and literally got them door by door, one door at
a time. She was in insurance, I believe, at the time, and
so, she had this route of going around collecting, you know,
the weekly policies, twenty-five, ten cents policies. Burial
policies. That kind of thing. I don't know for certain, but
I know she went around, and she knew all of the houses and
who lived in them. And so, on her route, she talked to everyone
about coming out to the mass meetings, of standing up to be
counted, of going down to try and register to vote, of getting
with us and supporting us and providing any help they could,
and really, more than anyone else, she got the churches open
to us. The ministers were scared shitless.
(Laughter.) I don't blame them. I mean. (Laughter.)
a long time to get a meeting place?
yeah. Yeah. Yeah. But Mrs. Devine was the one that got the
churches open to us.
she herself was connected with them, very strongly?
She was connected to the churches, and she was respected throughout
the community. You know. And one night, I think they had the
church locked up, and she lambasted the pastor and forced
him to open up the church. You know.
this her church? What church was this?
Suarez: I don't
she was able to talk and shame him?
him. Embarrass him. (Laughter.) And got the church open to
us. You know.
she work with you all about how to work with the local people?
I mean, did she mentor you all?
She not only did a wide area kind of canvas for us, but she
also directed us to the people we should talk to. To the teachers
who were the leaders, and who could get other teachers in.
She told us how to approach them, where to approach them,
when to approach them. You know. I mean, she just for every
ounce of energy that we put into it, she was right there putting
her 50 percent up alongside us. You know.
just have to turn this over. Just one moment.
(End of tape one, side one.
The interview continues on tape one, side two.)
Mrs. Devine was able to, really, taught you how to approach
the different classes of people in that community?
taught us who, where, when, and how. I mean, a lot of us probably
would have messed up and frightened people away, and we may
have been successful at forming a community organization there,
but I doubt very seriously that it would have had the strength,
or the numbers that it had without Mrs. Devine. And I doubt
very seriously that we could have accomplished it in the short
period of time that we did. You know.
long were you there?
Suarez: I was
in Canton until the end of the summer, and then after that,
it was in and out, in and out, in and out. You know.
one of the strongest movements in the state was built there,
yeah. Yeah. Yeah. Between September and January, I really
don't remember. I know I went down to Laurel and the project
there had been in shambles, I think. And I put that one back
together, and I left, and I went someplace else to do something.
And I don't remember the freedom folks.
that fall, the one that was in November or October of sixty-three.
like that. Well, I went back down there, and put together
the campaign to sign up Freedom Democrats. And then I left
and went to Meridian, I think, to open up the Meridian project.
the winter of sixty-three, sixty-four? Before Mickey Schwerner
came? Mickey and his wife?
I was there, I guess, in and out of there for about three
or four months before Mickey got there. Because by the time
Mickey got there, I had established contacts in Newton, and
Kemper, Lauderdale [Counties]. I had set up Meridian as the
base of operations, but I was moving out into Newton County
and Kemper County, and Neshoba. In Newton and Kemper, we were
able to get a foothold. In Neshoba, we weren't able to do
"a rien." I mean, it was impossible. Right?
terror in that state. The violence and repression, I have
been told recently, is less than it once was. Maybe that's
one victory from the movement, but--. (Laughter.)
couldn't help but be. (Laughter.) But, no, I'm going to tell
you. I went back to Neshoba in, oh, it must have been like
ninety-four, ninety-five. And, you know, a couple of people
pulled me on the side, and said things hadn't really changed
all of that much. They said, they was still finding bodies.
Black people. One particular thing they, you know, pointed
out to me and it sticks in my mind is that they say they found
a black guy 200 feet in the woods, beaten to death. And the
sheriff ruled it as an accidental automobile death.
the middle of the woods?
Said he had went off the highway and ran his car into a tree
and been thrown out of his car. Two-hundred feet.
feet from any road.
know, so, they were saying to me, regardless of how things
appear--. And at that point, the secretary of state who was
getting ready to run for governor. I forget what his name
was. He was down there and talking about the progress and
how Mississippi had moved ahead and all of this stuff, and
they were, you know, the black folks were pulling me on the
side saying, "Don't believe all this bullshit." You know.
Said, "Ain't much changed since y'all were here." And, you
know, it was not--. That particular incident sticks in my
mind, but it was not an isolated incident as they were relating
it to me. You know. This was something that was happening
on a regular basis there.
when you all were there in sixty-three, sixty-four, it was
a general reign of terror, all the time. I know it was against
local people, but also against the workers. How did you handle
any of this, yourself, personally? I know you drove like a
But also, when you're young, you have a feeling of being invincible.
You know. Really, it has had a devastating effect on me, in
the last few years. Didn't affect me, then, but, you know,
when I heard guys from Vietnam talking about flashbacks, I
ridiculed them. I'd say, "That's bullshit." You know. "They're
trying to figure out a way to get some free money out the
government." (Laughter.) You know. Oh, no. I recognize it,
now, because, I guess it may be four or five years ago, I
started waking up in a cold sweat, reliving things that had
happened to me and recognizing how close to death I was at
the time. And just totally ignorant of it, thinking, "I'm
going to survive anything." You know. I can. But, it doesn't
bother me, now, but for about a period of two years, it was
tearing my ass up at night. You know?
yeah. I was reliving. You know.
near Laurel, for instance?
Jackson. You know. I mean, there were numerous incidents where
our lives could have been snapped in a split second. Sometimes
we were aware of it. I guess we were always aware of it, but
what I mean is that sometimes we felt it was much closer.
Death was much closer. You know. Other times you felt like--.
Like, one night, I got picked up by the police, and they drove
me off into wilderness, and they caught me coming out of a
bar. I was tipsy. I was high, and immediately I thought, "Damn
fool! You are fucked up, now." But still--. I'm scared. You
know. But still, I'm thinking, "This ain't going to happen.
Not to me." Right? And luckily, it didn't. I mean, they wanted
to talk to a civil rights worker, off the record, to get some
information. Right? They wanted to know why we were there;
what we wanted. Why were we doing all this? What did we expect
to happen? Didn't we recognize that Mississippi was not going
to change? You know. And being tipsy, and, you know, getting
I guess a little comfortable with their questions, I spoke
very frankly to them, which, you know, in looking back on
it, was kind of stupid. (Laughter.) I never should have trusted
my mouth in that situation, being out there, isolated. You
know. (Laughter.) But, luckily, again, nothing happened to
me. You know.
let you go?
Yeah. In fact, they drove me back into town, and let me out
on a street. I had to really walk to get home, but I mean,
they didn't leave me out in the woods. You know? Which they
could have very easily done, and they could have left me out
there dead and nobody would have knew a goddamn thing because,
I mean, it was like two o'clock in the morning, two-thirty
in the morning. The club was supposed to have been closed.
You know. We were in there drinking after hours. And I just
got really high and decided to leave, and left out by myself.
And never made it to my car. You know. They knew I was in
there. They had obviously been watching me or following me
or something, and soon as I came out, they just snatched me
and put me in the car. You know.
lucky to be alive.
Yeah. Oh, that--. You know, I mean, on several occasions.
And that's what I say that I would wake up in the middle of
the night, dripping wet with sweat from fear. And I mean,
almost paralyzed from fear of stuff that happened thirty years
ago. You know.
They call it post-traumatic stress, whatever.
like the Vietnam veterans.
that's when I began to understand what the Vietnam veterans
were going through, and I said, "Well, this probably isn't
bullshit they've been talking about." You know. (Laughter.)
(Laughter.) Yeah. But, I don't know. When you're young, you
don't let that bother you. You know. My mother, they used
to call my mother and threaten to blow up the house, which
I really should have taken much more seriously. You know.
And I'd just disregard it. I told my mother, "Oh. Don't worry
about that. They ain't going to do nothing. They're just talking."
mother must have been very frightened. You know?
yeah. Yeah. Well, it was a mixed bag of tricks with her because
on the one hand, I think she was frightened. And on the other
hand, she was like, "If any son of a bitch come here to blow
up this house, I'm going to leave them laying out there in
the street." (Laughter.)
sure to get them. (Laughter.)
But the fact of the matter is, is that there were a hell of
a lot of dynamitings of buildings and homes and stuff taking
place in New Orleans. I think as late as 1966, there were
twenty-six bombings here in New Orleans. You know. But, again,
being young and idealistic and feeling invincible and all
of the, you know, things that go along with being youthful,
I didn't pay any attention to it. And I wasn't really concerned
about it. You know, I figured I would survive, and my family
you had a very different perspective than the one you had
in fifty-eight or sixty?
yeah. Yeah. But you know, George Raymond is dead. Isaac Ramsey[?]
is dead. Doris Castle is dead. Shirley Thompson is dead. And
I attribute all of their deaths to their involvement in the
civil rights movement.
stress. The lifestyle. The bad eating habits. The drinking.
I think all of that contributed to helping kill them. You
know. George Raymond died of a heart attack at the age of,
like, forty years old.
think he was only thirty.
had spent most of his grown life in Mississippi, hadn't he?
Yeah. Yeah. He went to Mississippi at, like--.
(The interview is interrupted
by a ringing telephone.)
came to Mississippi quite young, didn't he?
George must have been about twenty years old. He and I had
been road buddies here and drinking partners here, with the
CORE chapter here, but I think that, you know, you look at
George and what he gave to Mississippi, what he gave to black
people, it caused him to lose his life. And when I look around
at the CORE members of the CORE chapter, I mean, looking at
Rudy, Jerome, myself, Claude Reece[?], oh, and the Thompsons
and Dodie[?]. Dodie is dying, now, I understand. She's seriously
ill. You know. But she's one of those who was there every
time there was a call to walk a picket line. She went to jail
every time they asked people to go to jail. So did the Thompson
sisters. You know, I tried to say it before, but, it became
their lives. You know. And they gave everything to it. It
was like--. And I said to them, I said, "You know, if we could
come together to do something other than a civil rights campaign,
and use this kind of energy, like, to make some money, we
would be fantastic." (Laughter.) "If we gave to another project
the kind of dedication and energy that we brought to the CORE
chapter and the civil rights movement, we'd be dynamos." You
you think people would? If they came together for a cause,
that's what they'd come together for? That's it?
That's it. That's it. When I returned to New Orleans, I asked
them about getting involved in electoral politics, and they
And I said, "Well, you're abdicating
your responsibility." Said, "The people who want those offices
are the people who are going to betray everything that we
fought for. Those are people who are only interested in money
and power. They aren't interested in doing good, and if we
don't get there to do it, then we leave it to them." And that's
what we did because--.
of course. They said that they didn't want to be involved
in electoral politics. That was dirt; that was filth. That
was the scum of the earth. You know.
that a result, partly, of what happened with Freedom Democratic
Party's--? What happened at Atlantic City? Or, it could be
a lot of--.
Suarez: I think
that was just a small, small part of it. It was just the entire
political process that they had experienced throughout their
lives that they had no trust and no confidence in the system,
But how did you feel, like, looking back on the Mississippi
movement? In terms of electoral or in terms of building an
independent party, the Freedom Democratic Party? Did you feel
differently towards--? Did you feel that that was a victory,
that people achieved, or that that was an important framework,
in your perspective?
Suarez: I figure
it's a double-edged sword.
(The interview is briefly interrupted
by a ringing telephone.)
What I was saying is that I think that the Freedom Democratic
Party and civil rights movement in Mississippi served to advance
the cause of poor people in Mississippi, but it also served
to harm them. A lot of people--. If you look at C.O. Chinn,
and you look at what he had when we got there and what he
had when we left, he was virtually broke and destitute by
the time we left Mississippi. I learned later that he was
set up and sent to [the] penitentiary, all of which, I'm sure,
was because of his participation with the movement. While
Mrs. Hamer was able to go on, and Victoria Gray was able to
go on, and re-establish themselves and to take care of themselves
financially, the road is covered with bodies of people who
couldn't, that we dislodged from their lifestyles, arguing
that we were there to help and to improve the situation, but,
when we left, they were much worse off than when we got there.
And that concerns me. That really bothers me. You know. The
other thing is that a lot of people didn't really understand
what the movement--. I don't know if they didn't understand
so much as they were looking to use the movement for their
own personal gains. But in it, what happened was, a lot of
people were convinced that the federal government owed them
something. And consequently, they took a posture of sitting
on their butts, looking and arguing and always criticizing
and ready to protest to try and get something for nothing.
you referring partly to the response to the OEO coming in
with the programs? The fights over Head Start?
part of it, but it goes beyond that. That was a very small
segment of people involved in that. But I think overall, what
was said, a lot of times by a lot of well-intentioned people
was picked up by a lot of not-so-well-intentioned people.
You know, when you said, "the government owed" you something,
it didn't mean that you were entitled to Welfare for the rest
of your life, or that the government should take care of you
from cradle to grave. It meant that there had been past injustices,
and that there should be some sort of compensation for that,
but that really what we were looking for was to be able to
start at the starting line, with the same amount of weight
on our backs. You know. If you know anything about horse races,
you know they put different amounts of weight to compensate
for the jockey's weight distribution, or weight on the horse's
back. And, I'm saying that I think a large number of people
were saying that America should give blacks in this country
an opportunity to compete fairly. You know, not any special
privileges. Not any special set-asides or anything like that.
Just make sure all conditions are equal, and that we can all
compete fairly. Right?
Yeah. But a lot of people--. And someone said something to
me once. He said, about some people that I had some very negative
things to say about, who were leaders in housing projects,
and he said, "Well, they stay there because that's the only
place they can be a leader." You know.
a housing project.
"If you take them out of that element, the kind of bullshit
that they're talking won't sell anyplace else." But in the
public housing project, you can always be against things and
get a large crowd to follow you. You know what I mean? So,
I'm saying that we opened the door for a lot of that to take
place. That I don't think we were as effective as we should
have been or could have been, in terms of educating the community
at large and in terms of establishing some very clear and
specific goals and policies and that kind of thing. You know.
you think FDP, Freedom Democratic Party, was one vehicle that
people worked at to try to do that?
FDP made a really good effort at educating people of the political
process, and how the process could be used to benefit not
only blacks but the nation. The fact that some people attempted
to misuse that is not FDP's fault. I mean, you know, I think
that that was a tremendously credible job that was done. I
think it could have been done better, but given the limitations
and resources and the opposition, the conditions, you know,
it was a hell of a job. I mean, that was one spectacular thing
almost like a miracle that it could come together.
yeah. Yeah. You know. A man named Moses. (Laughter.)
in Canton, they had a very strong local group of FDP people,
they did. I wasn't around that much. I attempted to initiate
organizing the FDP's state office in Jackson, initially. I
was the first state director of the FDP. My efforts were nowhere
near what was needed, and some people very quickly pointed
that out to me. (Laughter.) And Guyot, I think, took over.
Well, Guyot? Donna?
was chair. Was chairman.
Yeah. But, no, it was a very strong organization inside of
Canton. I did what I could in Jackson, and then I think I
went back to Laurel, and I helped them in Laurel. And then
Jesse Morris[?] asked if I would rove around the state and
look at different projects to see how they were doing. You
know. And write up an evaluation of how they were coming along.
this was the summer of sixty-four? Or thereabouts?
Yeah. Yeah. I think so. I remember I was still doing that
at the time that we left. Well, I left, because
I drove up alone to Oxford, [Ohio].
their orientation in June, sixty-four.
I was in Meridian, and I drove to Jackson. Stopped in Jackson,
picked up some fresh clothes and whatever. And took off for
Oxford, and drove to Oxford by myself because the buses had
left. People were gone. You know.
you helped the process around the state. You tried to--?
As much as I could. It was a kind of awkward situation because
people clearly did not want their activities or their actions
evaluated. You know. But coming out of the Laurel project,
I wrote a report that Jesse was impressed with, and he thought
that we needed to do that on all of the projects. Stating
what the attributes and the negatives were about any given
situation. So, you know, that's where I was at.
tried. Did you do that through the summer?
When the summer came, that's a blank for me. That's a blank
for me. As you know, when we got back, the reason we came
back was because Mickey and Chaney and Goodman were killed.
Really bad, bad, I don't know--vibes. Something about the
whole situation. But anyway, people were talking and people
were flying in from everywhere, and I knew they were dead
before they were found. I knew they were dead as soon as they
told me they were missing. And people were flying in, and
they were meeting and huddling, and somebody made the comment.
I forget what the comment was, but I know after that, I don't
remember anything except Rudy and them asking me to take them
into Neshoba. But, somebody made the comment that they ought
to be able to raise millions off of this, or something about,
"You got to watch that SNCC doesn't try to use this as a fund-raiser."
Or something like--. I forget. You know, that Schwerner was
a CORE worker, or whatever. These were some people coming
in from National. You know. And I mean, when they said that
it was like everything just went red, and I don't remember
anything that happened after that until I decided to leave
Mississippi in January. I knew I had to go. You know. With
the exception of one time, Jesse Morris, Dave Dennis, Rudy
Lombard[?]. I don't remember if there was anyone else. Might
have been George Raymond, asked me if I would take them into
Neshoba because I was the only one knew the roads and stuff,
in and around Neshoba.
And I said, "OK." And we went
in, and the Klan had Neshoba locked up tight. Between the
Klan and the Highway Patrol, all of the roads were monitored,
blocked off, whatever. We wound up having to drive through
a field and everything to get away from the Klan out there.
You know. But other than that one incident--. We were going
in to see if we could find out anything about what happened
to Chaney and them. And other than that one incident, the
next six months is a total blank to me. You know. Total blank.
I don't remember nothing. And all of these years, I've tried
to remember, but I don't remember a thing. You know.
that was a devastating--. That was quite a beginning for a
Some things still bother you. You know. Some things still
bother you after all these years, still come back on you.
it's pretty horrible, from what you described.
you left to come back here?
Yeah. I got back here in January, late January, early February
CORE still active then?
Yeah. In fact, I was reading an interview that a woman did
with me from one of the universities. She did a book, and
I had completely forgotten about it, that in the summer of
sixty-six, I think, they had the CORE convention. I forget
where it was. But that's where I resigned from CORE at.
was the issue?
war in Vietnam. CORE was unwilling to take a position against
the war, and it was a lot of argument, and a lot of conferencing
and meeting, and stuff going on, and finally, it hit the floor
and people had to state their positions, and whatever. And
they said clearly that CORE would not be taking a position
against the war in Vietnam, and it was mostly because--I interpreted
it anyway--that they were concerned about what the White House's
reaction would be. You know. So, I said then that I could
no longer be a part of the organization. You know.
other people walk out?
Yeah. That's one of the things she pointed out in her book.
She said that about another fifteen people walked out then,
and within six months, over 50 percent of CORE had left the
organization. You know.
that included a lot of the southern CORE people?
yeah. Yeah. Which is what, I think, opened the door for what's-his-name
to come in.
Roy Innis. Yeah. You know.
Sort of turned CORE totally upside-down. Another world. You
said that a lot of the people that you talked to here weren't
that, didn't want to continue doing electoral for a lot of
reasons: that what they saw about the system and what they
saw about that arena. Did you continue, yourself?
Yeah. I ran for office a couple of times, myself. Lost very
badly. But I continued to work in campaigns. I managed several
campaigns for individuals, and I worked in, I guess, a good
thirty, forty campaigns. Every election I was involved in
some way or another. And in fact, I headed a political organization,
a political action caucus PAC, for about four years. We did
a lot of selection of candidates, evaluating candidates, making
recommendations to the community, and we did a lot of community
work. I was telling my daughter--. No, not my daughter. Who
was it? Someone. We went into the first and second wards,
uptown, and began working in the community to help get people
registered to vote. We saw that as an area where a black could
get elected to the State House of Representatives, and we
established a freedom school up in the Episcopal Church there
on Simon Bolivar, and we had food bank going, and we had after-school
tutorials, and we had a summer camp program. And a lot of
good, little things like that going. All building a base,
and, you know, trying to get people to go down and register
to vote. And we worked at that for a couple of years. And
then, Ernest Morial announced that he was running for office,
from the first and second ward.
the first and second?
He moved. Not moved. He rented an apartment on Magazine Street,
and claimed he had residency in the district, and ran so he
would be the first black elected state representative. You
he capitalized on what you did.
was this, the seventies?
I forget. But he was very shrewd. He was very shrewd. He was
someone who was watching, and he had his fingers on a lot
of different pulses, and he knew when the time was right.
You know. He knew when the time was right.
happened to your group?
we disbanded. It went on for a while after I left, but it
eventually disbanded. The project closed down a long time
before the political activity ceased. It got to be where it
was just endorsing candidates. You know. And then eventually
just faded away. You know.
it separated from the community activity.
You've been working with young people for a long time. Right?
Has that been a real satisfying thing? The very young. For
This is my twenty-fifth year in business here.
the day-care center?
We celebrated twenty-five years in June of last year .
is you and your wife, and now, a few of your kids?
Yeah. It's been very satisfying for me. Up until this point,
I have thoroughly enjoyed it, but now, I'm looking to do something
else. You know. In fact, I've stated that to the family, that
I'm going to be moving out. My baby girl is pretty much running
the business, now, and I'm helping to get this place together,
and soon as I do, I'll be out of here. You know. My wife wants
to open up a private school, and I told her I'm not doing
that. (Laughter.) That's a commitment, you know, that I am
unwilling to make. That's a fifteen-hour-a-day job. And at
this point in my life, I want things that are at arm's length.
I'm trying to get from underneath commitments, and responsibility,
and to relax and enjoy life a little bit more. I want to have
time to travel. In fact, my friend Ed Dubinsky[?], who is
retiring, in Atlanta, we're planning to go to Rome and Greece,
next year. We're putting a trip together. And I'm going to
be doing more of that kind of stuff. You know.
one that was the math teacher here?
I knew him when--.
Yeah. Well, that's him. He's been at Atlanta University for
the last four years, and that's where he's retiring from.
And he's moving to upstate New York. Well, I'm going to help
him move, and then he and I are going to be doing some traveling
together and I've got another friend out in St. Jones Parish[?],
Carl Baloney[?]. He wants to do some traveling, too. He's
ready to give it all up. And, so, I'm going--.
Yeah. I'm going to get away from all of this. Although there
are other things I want to do. One of the things that I want
to do is get into the hospitality business, and I want to
get into the hotel, tour guide, and limousine business.
about twenty-four hours a day.
No, no, no, no, no. (Laughter.) Because I'm going to design,
develop, and turn over. You know. My little nephew wants to
get into the hotel business with me, and he will probably
be running it if we are able to do it. One of my daughters
will be in charge of the limousine business. You know. Probably
my oldest girl. I've got a son coming along, too. So, you
know. I've got nieces and nephews and people who can pick
it up and handle it.
with the kids, what was--? You were really challenging them
to learn, all these years, right? I mean, it must have been
a good thing to work with the little ones, in many ways.
that, for me, is what has really given all the joy. You know.
I get the joy from seeing them learn, seeing them develop.
Right now, this afternoon, they had a chess class back here,
and I'm watching their little brains work. You know. And you
just stand up there in amazement, knowing that at that age,
you know, the only thing I wanted was probably a piece of
four and five. (Laughter.)
know. Just give me a piece of bread in one hand and let me
go out in the yard and play. You know. Hitting a stick or
something like that. And at four years old, these little rascals
(End of tape one, side two.
The interview continues on tape two, side one.)
Develop. And that's one of the things that, really, we established
as a goal from day one, was that we wanted to develop the
child totally. We didn't want them to be an academic whiz
kid and a social misfit. You know what I mean? We didn't want
them to be some selfish, snooty, little brat with a lot of
attitude and over-confident or anything. So, you know, we
looked at developing their minds, their bodies, their personalities,
their manners. You know, we looked at developing the total
child. And that's the way our program is structured. We give
them a lot of activities, physical and mental. We give them
a lot of concrete learning, and we give them a lot of social
interaction. You know. So, it's worked out really well. We've
got a really good reputation going.
built it a lot, haven't you? It's at what, about a hundred
now, we're at about 130. You know. Yeah.
do these kids keep touch, sometimes, later?
yeah. Yeah. We have, believe it or not! (Laughter.) I mean,
this seems strange to me, but we have children of children
who graduated from here with us. (Laughter.) They have their
babies in here, now.
a new generation.
And really, some of them are like the fifth, sixth, seventh
kid that have come from a particular family. Yeah. We've got
a baby in there, now. The grandmother brought the baby on
over. She say, "And I told them, Uncle Matt. They finished
from here, and that baby wasn't going no place else but
here." (Laughter.) "I know what y'all are about."
You know. And they bring--. You know. We've got a whole lot
of them over there who have their parents graduated from our
preschool. You know. Now, that makes you feel old! (Laughter.)
indeed. Not to mention, you're already a grandparent. Both
of you. Right?
You look at them and they're young professionals up and on
their way. You know. And they're bringing their kids, and
you remember they graduated! (Laughter.) No, but it's been
good. It's been good. I've enjoyed it. It's just that I've
been backing off the last year. It takes so much out of you
to stay on top of it. I don't deal with high income clients.
You know. I'm dealing with working parents that are eking
out a living and trying to do the best they can for their
kids. So, in terms of income and, you know, an excess pot
of money that you could just do things that you want to do,
we don't have that. So, it's like, you look at the shelves,
we made them. Computer tables, we made them. See. Look. All
that's old wood? We make it. We piece it together. We pick
up stuff here and there.
build a lot yourself?
Look. See? Whatever we can throw together. We pick up what
people throw out. We put it together to try and make ends
meet, and that watching the expenditures and always having
to figure the dollars real close, it wears and tears on you
after a while. I mean, for a while, you know, it's fun. You're
excited about it. You like making it work. Seeing it. But
after a while it gets to be a chore, and then it really gets
to be a drag. You know. And like I said, now, I'm tired. I
want to do some things for myself. There are some other goals
I want to accomplish, and this is pretty much underway, that
it'll go fine without me and my wife. You know? It'll go fine.
really established. And two of your daughters are real involved
in it, right?
Right. My baby girl manages the administration, and my middle
daughter is in charge of programming and curriculum and stuff.
So, you know. Yeah. And then, my sister works in the business,
also, as a kind of general support person for them. You know.
it's a family business.
yeah. Yeah. Yeah. At different times, all of my nieces and
nephews have worked in the business with us, and everybody
in the family on my side and my wife's side have been in to
help us. I mean, during a pinch when things got tight or we
were shorthanded or whatever. You know. Everybody on her side
of the family and my side of the family have been up in there
working to make this thing what it is. You know.
great. So, you think it's ready to go without you?
The girls know what it's all about, and they have some key
staff people there who have been with us for a while that
know what it's all about. And really the role that we're playing
right now is really monitoring. You know. We're just monitoring
the situation. That's all. Except I'm developing and trying
to add and build new stuff, but the program could go on, now,
and they wouldn't even miss us. You know.
now, you're creating these new, the computer room, and the
chess, and all the rest of it?
it's another dimension.
that's because I can't leave well enough alone. (Laughter.)
I'm not playing a really significant role in that end of the
business, so, I'm over here doing something else. Putting
something else together. But no, we find ourselves as, I don't
know, victims of our own success. I guess. The kids that we
have been producing, I guess, are best described as over-qualified
for the school system, in terms of hard skills. They go to
school prepared to do work while a majority of the other students
they're in school with come to school unprepared. They're
starting from block one, and my kids are maybe at block fifteen.
So, it's creating a problem for the school system. It creates
a problem for the student. It creates a problem for the family.
The kids are not getting challenged. They're not being challenged.
And in many cases, they're sitting bored in the classroom,
and left unattended by the teachers. You know.
don't know what to do with them.
So, what I'm doing with this place is to try and move them
off into another area that is going to develop them and help
to create a whole person. A really thinking individual, but
at the same time will still be able to participate in group
activities in the school system. You know. They, right now,
our kids are lost when they go into the public school system.
Parochial schools are not much better, but the parochial schools
like our students. They want our students, because they say,
"Oh. When we test them, we know Rainbow students right away,
so I want--." They'll be fighting to get them in their class.
You know. "I want them." Because they know they aren't going
to be any trouble. (Laughter.) So, you know, they're a little
bit better than the public school, but it's still not providing
the child with what the child needs, and, well, to make a
long story short, hopefully this center here will be able
to do things that are positive with the child, help to develop
them, but to take them, to back them off of the concretes.
not teach them the reading and writing as much as just stimulating
you're doing a freedom school. (Laughter.) In a way.
I guess you could put it like that. Yeah.
about politically? Do you stay--? You must be very consumed
with this, but do you see any--? Have you been active in the
last few years? Or, no?
No. I really stopped. Oh, it must have been about eighty-five
or so. It might have been a little earlier than that, but
my wife--. You know. One of the things that was happening
was I would go off, and work on a campaign, and sometimes
I would work around the clock. Wouldn't come home for two
days or so. And it was taking a toll on the family, and my
wife said to me, she said, "I need you to give that up."
And I said, "Why?"
She said, "Well," she said,
"I need you here with me and the kids." And she said, "You're
missing out on the best part of their lives." She says, "And
if you miss seeing your children grow up, you're never going
to get that back. You'll never get another opportunity at
that." You know?
It's really just one time.
So, you know, I thought about it, and I said, "She's right."
You know. I've been putting the community and civic responsibilities
and politics and everything else before the family. I would
run every time the gong rang; I'd break out of the barn. You
know. And so, I just stopped cold turkey. I mean, I just--.
And I started devoting myself to the family. You know. And
that's where I've been.
So, you have the rewards of watching them all grow.
She pulled me in and made me look at what I was missing. You
know? And I owe her that. I thank her for that because it's
really been great. You know. I thoroughly enjoyed sharing
and participating in their growing up and their maturing.
And, you know, it's been wonderful. And we've got a really
good family. We're still close. Everybody's close. Even my
oldest girl that's married. I've got a son in D.C. He calls
every other week. You know. And he comes down twice a year.
So, it's been good.
you have an older boy and three girls, and a younger boy?
a younger boy. Right.
younger boy is about to sprout his wings.
Right. I hope so. (Laughter.)
like your wife does, too.
Yeah. Yeah. Well, he's eighteen, and he's about to graduate
from high school and go off to college someplace. Looks like
he might be going to Grambling. He wants to play in the band
up there, but once he does that, her and I will be footloose
and fancy free! (Laughter.)
I want to thank you, Matt. Flukey. (Laughter.) I think of
you as. Are you called Flukey, still?
All of my childhood friends, the kids that I grew up with
here around New Orleans, that's all they know me by.
What about the friends from CORE?
much the same thing. It's people that don't know me that call
me by my name. (Laughter.)
Thanks very much, Flukey. I really appreciate it. And we'll
see how this turns.
(End of the interview.)