An Oral History


Rosie Washington

Interviewer: Worth Long

Tougaloo College Archives

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

Funding for this project was provided in part by the Mississippi

Humanities Council, the National Endowment for the Humanities, and

the Mississippi Department of Archives and History.



Ms. Rosie Washington was born on November 29, 1949, in Grenada, Mississippi. One of eleven siblings, Ms. Washington remembers her childhood as a happy time. Until Ms. Washington was nine years old, her father farmed. Seeking a better wage in the city of Grenada, her father gave up farming, and moved his family to Grenada.

When Dr. Martin Luther King came to Grenada in 1966, Ms. Washington met him, and she was made aware of African-Americans' rights regarding equal opportunity, as well as the denial of those rights at that time. Many of the civil rights movement volunteers were hosted by Ms. Washington's parents, and lived in their home. Ms. Washington and six of her siblings were among the first African-American students to desegregate Grenada public schools. Picketing in Grenada when she was sixteen years old, Ms. Washington, among other demonstrators, was loaded onto a cattle truck and taken to Parchman Penitentiary where she was held for five days.

Currently Ms. Washington is a police officer.

Table of Contents

Childhood 1

Mass meetings 4

Desegregating the public school 4

Violence to children 5

Dr. Martin Luther King in Grenada 6

Nonviolence 9

Arrested as minor 10

Parchman Penitentiary 11

Mule train 17




This is an interview for the Civil Rights Documentation Project. The interview is with Ms. Rosie Washington and is taking place on April 2, 2000. The interviewer is Worth Long.

Long: Alright. We're in Grenada, Mississippi. And we're interviewing with regard to the Grenada civil rights movement, especially after the Meredith March. The March Against Fear in 1966. Could you tell me your name and where and when you were born, please?

Washington: My name is Rosie Washington, and I was born in Grenada, Mississippi, November 29, 1949.

Long: OK. Now, what was it like growing up in Mississippi at that time?

Washington: I had a wonderful childhood. I didn't know anything about segregation. I was real protected by my parents. I didn't know anything about what we should have had or whatever. All I knew was that we had food on the table. I had plenty of sisters and brothers to play with and to interact. I was happy.

Long: Tell me about, who were the members of your family? Your mother and father's name and the siblings.

Washington: My mother was Miss Beulah[?], and my father was Edmond[?] Washington.

Long: Mm-hm. And they were born in what town?

Washington: They was born in Grenada County. And I got six brothers and four sisters.

Long: Can you remember their names?

Washington: Of course. (Laughter.) My older sister, Bersie[?], Nora, myself, of course. I'm the third. Edmond[?] Jr., Thomas, Chester, Charles, James Earl, Dianne[?], Edna, and Gwen[?].

Long: OK. And they were all born in this county?

Washington: Correct.

Long: I see. OK. I'm going to talk with your mother, but can you remember from their conversations where they came from? I know they were born in the county, but what about your family history? Where can you begin, based on her recollections?

Washington: I would have to let you talk to her about that because I really don't know. Far as I know is they're all from right here in Grenada County.

Long: OK. Now, one of the questions I often ask is why was it necessary for there to be some change in civil rights history, during the 1960s. You weren't really experiencing, you say, certain hardships. What changes would have been necessary for you? Or what conditions would have been necessary for you to have felt in order to be committed to change? Why did you do what you did, is what I'm getting to?

Washington: OK. Once Dr. King came to town--.

Long: And that was in?

Washington: That was in sixty-six. They came through, I think, something like, I want to say March, but I'm not for sure about March. At any rate, when they came through, and we all met them over by the school on Telegraph Street. They had a tent there, and we got a chance to meet them.

Long: Was that the old school?

Washington: Yeah. That was the black school, then. And, like I say, I didn't know anything about segregation. And they made us aware of what we was missing and things that we was not getting that we should have had. And, you know, then we started having meetings, and discussing and listening to others. Things that we knew. We wasn't aware of until then, and which made us want that. You know. Have the opportunity. Going to school. Because we would get second-hand books, but we didn't know any better. We thought that was new books. So, they made us aware of all these things that we didn't have. The opportunity that we should have. The equal opportunity.

Long: What time did the bus pick you up at your house going to school?

Washington: Then?

Long: Yeah.

Washington: I guess around seven. That was when we moved to town. We used to live in the country, on the farm.

Long: How did people get from the farm?

Washington: From the farm, now, I remember when I started school, it was dark. So it apparently had to be around five o'clock in the morning, or six. Maybe six o'clock, because I knew it was dark when I was going to school, and I didn't like it.

Long: How'd you get there?

Washington: On the bus.

Long: And you got the county bus?

Washington: Mm-hm. We went to this Tie Plant school where the milk was two cents. Yeah. And, you know.

Long: In what community?

Washington: That was in Tie Plant community, but here in Grenada County.

Long: Right. OK. Now, your father, did he ever farm?

Washington: Oh, he was a--. Yeah. He was a farmer, then, and he loves it, now. Yeah. I remember the last time we farmed, I was nine years old, and we raised about forty-five bales of cotton, and barely broke even. And that's when my mom told him, said, "We're leaving the farm. We've got to go." And my mother and one of the neighbors and her brother came to the city looking for a house so that we could move off the farm. And we found this project. A raggedy, ghetto house. And she went back and told Daddy that we was going to leave. And Daddy said, "OK." So, we left the farm and moved to the city. The big town. But it was a raggedy house, maybe something like two or three bedrooms, and it was about twenty of us, almost, but we stayed there for about a year. And then we moved to another raggedy house, but we left the farm.

Long: Right. Now, what about, what kind of work did you do to sustain yourself in the city?

Washington: Well, my mother was taking odd jobs with a lot of the white folks. Cleaning their houses, and Daddy would take, he had pretty decent jobs. Different things like, working out for the Corps of Engineers, or working for lumber companies or different places like that.

Long: So, he had some skills in terms of--? Were they brought over from farming? Tractor driving and so forth?

Washington: I don't know how he survived, but he did. He provided for us. We never did know, or have to wonder how we was going to get, you know, the next meal. We never, never worried about that. I guess he kept the worries to himself because all we knew, when we'd go in the kitchen to eat, we ate.

Long: Yeah. That's fine.

Washington: So, he never, you know, brought that to us, the kids. Now him and Mother, probably, you know, discussed it or whatever, but we never had that worry.

Long: OK. Now, you say, you saw Dr. King, and people talked to you about rights that you had that were not being exercised. That you were not exercising.

Washington: Correct.

Long: Was there any strategy or planning about what to do about the denial of those rights?

Washington: When Dr. King came, we had mass meetings. We'd go to mass meetings at different churches, and they would discuss, like, we're going to get everybody that possibly could to sign up to go to integrate the schools. And it was so many of us signed up, that they couldn't open the schools because they didn't want that. So, the schools supposed to have opened, like, for September, they postponed it until October or November to find, I'm assuming, which they did--. The white people found ways to start working on the parents. Like, if they worked for them, they'll fire them from their jobs or tell them, "You either remove your kids from this school, or you won't have a job, or a house, or a farm, or whatever, to live." So, therefore, a lot of them withdrew, backed out. But, of course, we didn't use--. Daddy was working at Lownde's[?] what they call Randy Textron[?], but at that particular time it was Lyle's[?], and we wouldn't use his name on anything because we knew he was the breadwinner. My mom was not working. She was working cleaning up houses, but we weren't really concerned about that, so, we used her name on everything. All documents that we needed, the kids did.

Long: Yeah. Hers was a second income.

Washington: It was barely an income, so we used her name and they couldn't equate us with our daddy.

Long: How many kids from your family? How many of your sisters and brothers applied for the school? For the so-called white school?

Washington: All of us.

Long: Uh-huh. And how many were accepted?

Washington: All of us.

Long: So, in your family, are we talking about ten children?

Washington: No. Out of eleven children, see, how many was going to school, then? It was Bersie, Nora, Edmond, Thomas, Chester, and myself.

Long: Uh-huh. They were younger.

Washington: But the youngest one was six. Uh-huh. There was six of us, but because the young was too young to go to school right then, at that particular time.

Long: Right. OK. And what did you experience in the school when you got there?

Washington: Oh, man! You name it; we experienced it. Everyday, all day, "Nigger, nigger, nigger." Throwing at us. Knocking us down the stairs. Any way, any form of intimidation, they gave it to us. From the students to the teachers. Every day. We had to walk through the National Guard, [who] was standing on each side while we marched to school. And our first day--. I remember the first day we tried to go to school, it was a bunch of grown-ups, whites, and they was standing at the end of the street, and they was standing there. And we was walking on, and we stopped because they say, "Here come the niggers."

And I told--. You know, of course, I always tried to be a little leader. And I go, "Let's don't run." And it was this girl had polio. She was with us, and everybody stopped, and started backing up. I said, "No. We're not going to run. Let's go on." And we was walking on over to the school, to the white school. And when they threw a brick and some bottles, and it hit us. You know it splattered right in front of us. I looked back, and I thought we were going to stand firm. Everybody else had taken off running, except me and this girl with the polio. And I looked at her, and I looked at the crowd charging us, and I had to leave her. I'm sorry. (Laughter.) So, we ran. I did all the running I could. So, we ran over to the church.

Long: They wouldn't mess with her because she had polio.

Washington: Oh, they beat her. They beat her. They almost killed her.

Long: With polio?

Washington: Yeah. They caught up with her. They beat her with bricks. I mean, they put her in the hospital. She had to go to Jackson University. Her name was Emma Cunningham. She's dead, now, but, yeah, they almost killed her. And the ones they caught up with, they almost killed, but I was running so fast, I was the lucky one.

Long: This is a crowd made up of what?

Washington: Made up of racist whites, grown men. Men. I mean, I'm not talking about no boys; I'm talking about men. And I really don't like to talk about this. By my working for the public now, every time I bring this up, I get angry. Really, really angry, because we was kids, and they did us wrong. And to think about all of this, it brings back what I have prayed for so long to try to remove. So.

Long: Right. Yeah. Well, now, the integration of schools was after the freedom fighters came. Is that right?

Washington: Yes.

Long: About how far after the first marches and stuff? If you can remember.

Washington: I want to say they--. I'm not 100 percent sure. Like I say, it's been thirty years ago or longer, but I want to say they came something like March or April, in the spring of the year, a little before school started. Wait a minute. School started in September. Yeah. It supposed to have started in September, so it had to be during the summer months when they came. It had to be. I was thinking about March, but, no, it had to be during the summer months because right after school supposed to have started in September, and since they moved it back to try to keep all of us from going over to that school. So, I guess it was about June or July or August. Somewhere in that area.

Long: Now, tell me about the actual demonstrations. The first thing you can remember happening other than you mentioned people coming and camping out. You know, and this is--. Tell me, now, where they started from, and then how they got to you. And how you heard about them.

Washington: I heard that the civil rights was on their way. The freedom riders was on their way to Grenada, Mississippi, and they was at the Yalobusha Bridge which is on Highway 51 North. And they walked on. Some people from Grenada, a bunch of people from Grenada, because we was not allowed to participate at that particular time, met them at the bridge and they came on over because we lived on Telegraph by the old school. And so, they came over there. They had a tent over there, right by our house, which gave us the great opportunity to go down the streets to meet them. And we just ran down there as kids, and we was excited to see people marching and cameramen and television that we didn't know anything about was there. And, you know, we was excited. And we went down, and we got a chance to meet different leaders and Dr. King, and we was happy. And then they said they was going to have a meeting that night. A mass meeting.

Long: In what church?

Washington: No, it was at the tent.

Long: I see.

Washington: And they stayed at that tent for about a week.

Long: Uh-huh. So, it was in the school yard. The old black school yard.

Washington: Right.

Long: And tell me about those meetings. Did you actually get a chance to go?

Washington: No, I didn't get an opportunity. I didn't get an opportunity. I wanted to. I got angry at my family, my parents for not allowing us to go at that particular time.

Long: Yeah, at that time.

Washington: But at that time, we didn't get a chance to go. But gradually, the freedom fighters started visiting us, so they would come up to the house. They would either spend the night, and so we just started. They would stay at our house, eat. You know. And we became closer and closer. You know, just got like a family because even when they left, when they'd come to town, they would visit us. We, like, just would take in all the strays or whatever. (Laughter.) It was just a family. We had this big house, and they was just there.

Long: You had both black people and white people?

Washington: Oh, yeah. Definitely. Black and whites.

Long: Men and women?

Washington: Men and women. They came. They came; they stopped at our house. Even people from California. You know how they would have people tutor us, or whatever, would come in. Of course, they had to stop at the Washington's. They was there. So we was really a centrally located place for if you need to find any civil rights worker, mostly would be either at our house or at Ms. Green's house. So.

Long: You sound like that was a freedom house.

Washington: It was. It was. I mean, people that we didn't even know, even though it would scare us, me and my mom because, "We don't know this man." And he's coming here that he would stay there.

And we didn't even know where he came from but all he said was, "Civil rights."

And we'd just say, "OK. The door is open." It was always open for them.

Long: Would they often have on overalls and stuff?

Washington: Some would. And most of them wouldn't. You know. Yeah. But, it was interesting. We started going to mass meetings at churches, finally. You know. We would go every time it would be some kind of meeting, mass meeting or protest, picketing. You know. Sit-ins. We was there. I would love to be there. It was exciting to me. It was more exciting just to see, because you know it's going to be something new, and I'm the type of person that I enjoy something new. If it's new, get me in it. If it's a fight, I want to see it. Whatever break out, I want to be there to see it.

Long: I'll remember that. (Laughter.)

Washington: Well, that's why I'm a police officer, now, because, I guess, I just enjoy that type excitement.

Long: Yes, ma'am.

Washington: It was a rush.

Long: Now, tell me then, when did your parents decide that it's alright for y'all to participate. That's before the integrating the school. I know, they supported you and signed forms for six of you, but when did they--. You say, you weren't able to go to the mass meeting when they crossed over the river and had that first night meeting. When did they--? Because they seemed to become a central location for freedom.

Washington: Yeah. They decided that when people was trying to decide for them. I got the type of people, my parents, you don't tell them what they cannot do. They're grown, and if you tell them they can't, then they're going to say, "Well, hey, it must be something reason why they can't."

So, when all the people that called themselves helping, "Well, take my advice. Don't let your children participate. Don't let your children go and get an education. Don't let those people come to your house."

Long: Right.

Washington: See, that's your house. It's not their house. So, they decided, "Well, you don't speak for me. I speak for myself." So, apparently, that's when they decided to just get in it, more and more. If you tell them not to, they kind of hard-headed. (Laughter.) You tell them not to, they're going to do. So, apparently, that's the way they started, and they was listening for themselves and thinking for themselves. And not for--. You didn't think for them. They thought for themselves.

Long: Yeah. But they would be afraid for you and your sisters and brothers.

Washington: That's why they didn't let us go to the mass meetings, because they was afraid that we might get hurt. Because it was some crazy white people that was coming from all over. It was just not the white people here in Grenada. It was white people from all over Mississippi that would come here. Because one night we had a demonstration, it was so many white people up there on that square that they tripled us. We was demonstrating, and they just made three loops around us. It was just that many, and then it was more on the sidelines. And it was very--. Come to think of it now, it was very, very dangerous, but one thing for sure, with God on your side, you don't have to worry about it. And that's the only way you have to look at it. Because if you don't have God on your side, you can forget it because they would have killed us. Ain't no doubt about it.

Long: Right. Now, were there any prohibitions or anything that the freedom fighters would say about nonviolence that you couldn't do, even if you were confronted with violence? Did you remember anybody saying?

Washington: Dr. King, we all knew, there was nonviolence. If you didn't believe in nonviolence, don't march. He would always emphasize that. "If you're going to fight, you're in the wrong place. This is a nonviolent movement. We are not going to fight. Don't hit back." Now, I disagreed with it to a point because, I mean, you know, if you walk up and slap me, I'm going to try to slap you back. But he didn't believe in that and so we went along with whatever. But he definitely, that's what was taught to us, the nonviolent way.

Long: Does that affect you today as you sit here? The idea that Dr. King's way won when another way might have gotten everybody into trouble? Does that kind of affect you, now?

Washington: Sort of. Somewhat. Because I can see it clearly. You know. More clear now since I'm grown than I could when I was a child. You know. I couldn't see why you can't hit back. If they're hitting, why can't you? But now, you can see, he was teaching a way whereas they had all the guns. They had all the weapons. They had the jails. They was in control. We had nothing. Not even money. We had no money, so, they was in control, and we weren't. But I couldn't see it then. Now, I can, and plus, people would view it better, you know, if you're out there and you're doing the same thing they're doing, they would say the cause is worthless. But we was not. We was kids, and we got sent to prison on a cattle truck. And we stayed in prison for five days.

Long: I can't believe that.

Washington: As kids. Five days on the back of a cow truck with manure on that truck with no railings.

Long: Who do you know who did that? Who did that?

Washington: It had to be the police department. It had to be. You know. And the mayor of the town. The town people, because they definitely did it. They carried us to Mississippi State Penitentiary.

Long: Tell me about that experience. So, you're saying that they arrested you?

Washington: Yeah. Yeah, I was definitely part of it. Oh, definitely.

Long: Tell me the sequence leading up to it, and actually going through Parchman, and then how they got you back.

Washington: OK. We was demonstrating. We was protesting.

Long: It was about what?

Washington: What we was doing, we was picketing uptown, downtown, and they came on a--. They brought this big, black bus with no name on it or anything. Just a big, black bus. And they told us to move. And we said we was not going to leave. We had our little signs, and we was not going to leave. (Inaudible.)

Long: Tell me what one of the signs might have said.

Washington: "We shall overcome." Or, "Don't buy downtown." It's just different signs everybody had. "Nonviolence is the way." You know. Just, each one would make their own sign.

Long: Did you have a sign?

Washington: Yeah, but I just can't recall as to what was on that particular sign at that particular time. But they picked all of us up, and we were singing, "We ain't scared of no jail because we want our freedom." Even though we was afraid. I was. I think the rest of us was, too, but at any rate--.

Long: Remind us how old you were then.

Washington: Then, in sixty-six, I was about sixteen.

Long: OK. And go ahead with the story.

Washington: OK. And so, they picked us up from the square, and they brought us on around. See, we got the square. You know. You got the south side of the square; you got the north side. So, they carried us around to the north side, and they told us to get on that truck. And we were wondering, "Why are we getting on this truck?" And they made each one of us get on the truck. We all climbed on the truck. The guys and girls together. We climbed on the truck. It was no railings to balance ourselves. So, we got on that truck, and the driver which was a white male, old white male, he got in the truck. No uniform on or anything. Just got in the truck and took off. Started driving, and we didn't know where we was going. And people were crying and everything. And my mother and another lady was following us in a car. And every time--. This guy was just speeding, going out of town, and they just kept following us.

And when they finally had to stop for a stop sign or a light or something, my mother wanted to know, asked me in pig Latin, "Ere-whay ou-yay oing-gay?"

And I told her back in pig-Latin, because we had learned how to talk pig-Latin at an early age, so, I told her in pig-Latin, "I-hay, elieve-bay e-way oing-gay oo-tay archman-Pay." And so, she kept following us. They followed us all the way until they stopped and made them leave. They made them turn around. And so, finally we rode on, and it started drizzling rain, and some was scared and wanted to jump off and try to commit suicide. Everybody was trying to console everyone else. And so, finally, when we'd go around a curve, all of us had to hold together to keep from falling off, and everything. So, finally we got down to Parchman, where the sign said, "Mississippi State Penitentiary." And going, "Man!" And that's when it was kind of scary. And some of the civil rights leaders like Lester, he was with us.

Long: That's Big Lester?

Washington: Big Lester. You know, the freedom--. They used to sing. Lester and Bill his friend, Bill, and just a bunch of guys that was older than we were was with us, and everything, and they had to get off first. And when they did, they made them strip in front of the women, the girls. At least, we was not women. We was young girls. They made them strip, and the other guys, while everybody was looking, and made them open up. You know. Bend over and open their cheeks, and everything, just, you know, just taking all the dignity they had. And while they sat there, and they laughed about it. And they carried us on and put us in a cell. About four or five of us in a cell together. And then, come to find out from lawyers that finally would come in and talk to us, they carried us to prison. They carried my brother to Greenville jail. They carried us all around the state. You know, different places where they would hold us in jail. But they let them out the next day because they was much, you know, a couple years younger than we were. And I was, like, fifteen or sixteen years of age at that time, and they was younger than that. They had them up to about nine, ten, eleven, or twelve years old. So, they let them out of jail, but they kept us down there one week in Mississippi State Penitentiary. I think I need to sue them, now. But, any--. (Laughter.)

Long: For cruel and unusual punishment.

Washington: For a juvenile in an adult cell. Prison.

Long: Tell me about those conditions, though, if it doesn't affect you too much. Just tell me what they actually did from that point that you were on this, what kind of truck was it? It was a cow?

Washington: A cow truck.

Long: A cow truck.

Washington: Yeah. What they hauled [cows] to the slaughter. That's the kind of truck we was on. What you call a long-bed truck.

Long: Uh-huh.

Washington: That (inaudible). And it affects me a lot because the more I think about it, now, the angrier I get, and I know I've got to supervise and be over all of those white folks tomorrow, and when I watch something like Roots or reminisce about this, it tees me off. It makes me mad.

Long: Yeah, but you've been stilled in the storm.

Washington: Yeah.

Long: You hear what I say? Or, let me ask that as a question since I'm an interviewer. Haven't you been stilled in the storm?

Washington: Yes. Yes. So, that's why I try to. I can get over it.

Long: Right. But tell me those conditions, though. I mean, if I were asking you for an affidavit about what happened to you from the point at which you got off the truck until the point at which you got home, can you tell me that story?

Washington: Yeah. They had this constable. He couldn't read nor write, but he was--. Well, they knew he was the worst racist it was. They had him over us, and we had no privacy. None whatsoever. Once you get dressed, he's right there lurking at you, but since being so many in the same cell, he wouldn't just actually come in the cells with us. And we just stayed there. No phone calls. Lights out.

Long: How many toilets?

Washington: One.

Long: For how many people?

Washington: It was about five or six of us in the same cell. So, just one toilet. That's it.

Long: How did you wash your clothes or change your clothes?

Washington: Oh, you didn't wash no clothes or change no clothes or comb your hair. It was no grooming. You didn't have no grooming. It was none of that. You kept on what you had on until you got back.

Long: And how many days?

Washington: Five days we stayed down there. Five days with the same clothing. Same nappy hair that we tried to comb, but you didn't have anything in that cell with you.

Long: These were women in your cell?

Washington: Just women in my cell.

Long: If I had my monthly, what would--?

Washington: Oh, you're just up the creek. I mean, you know, you'd use tissue, but that's it. You had, it was nothing. I mean, you had no deodorant. No. I don't even recall a towel, a face towel. I really don't recall a face towel to wash up. I really don't. Now, they might have, but like I say, I just can't recall one.

Long: How did y'all pass the time?

Washington: Singing freedom songs and joking with each other, and when somebody would start crying, you know, remind them that it's for freedom.

Long: Yeah?

Washington: It was fun to us in a way because we was young kids, and this was part of the struggle.

Long: Could you see other people your age? Could you see anything other than your own people?

Washington: No. No, no, no, no. You couldn't see anything but that wall. You're in the cell, and you could see a wall. The hallway, if you really get down and try to peek through the bars, you can kind of see down the hall a little. Just a little. And the only time that you got a chance to see somebody, like I say, if the lawyer came in. I think he came, maybe, there twice to talk to us.

Long: Uh-huh. You know where he came from?

Washington: No, I really don't.

Long: Don't remember who he was?

Washington: Uh-uh. Because they had a lot of civil rights lawyers from different places. So, I don't know which one. It could have been Lackey[?] but I don't know which one at that particular time.

Long: How did you know that they were going to let you out? Y'all were getting ready to go?

Washington: We didn't until we got ready to go. We did not know. We didn't know what the outside world--. We didn't know any information as to what--. Only thing the lawyer would say is they came down once to take a complaint that we had, and we were scared afterwards because--.

Long: What was the complaint?

Washington: I really can't recall as to what happened. I think they beat up on someone and put them in the hospital, but I can't recall as to exactly what the complaints--.

Long: The details. And, was it daytime when they transferred you?

Washington: It was in the afternoon because it was getting dark. And it was in the afternoon when they did it.

Long: OK. By the time you got back to Grenada.

Washington: Oh, when we left from there?

Long: Uh-huh.

Washington: I can't recall was it day or night when we got back. I was just so happy to get back. I don't know.

Long: And do you remember what transportation they used to get you back? Was it a bus? It wasn't a cattle truck?

Washington: You know, I don't even know. I have blanked that part out. I can't recall how they brought us back. Do you remember how we got back from prison, Ma? Is she in there?

Unknown male voice: She's back there on the telephone.

Washington: Oh. Do you remember how we got back from prison, Daddy?

Mr. Washington: Now, when I got in from WIC[?]. It was before I got off WIC, and I got off WIC at 3:30 in the evening, at the time, with my job, because my boss come back there and told me to go by the (inaudible) office.

Washington: But that was when Mary Jean got arrested.

Mr. Washington: That was the same thing.

Washington: Uh-uh.

Mr. Washington: Oh, yeah.

Washington: Was it?

Mr. Washington: Yeah.

Long: They came back in buses?

Mr. Washington: I don't know how they got back. I'm sorry to tell you. I had a call. My boss called me back to the office and said to go by the police department.

Long: Did you have to sign them out?

Washington: He had to pay for Mary Jean.

Mr. Washington: I had to pay a fine for one of (inaudible).

Washington: That was my older sister.

Long: And what was the fine for?

Mr. Washington: For going across the line, I reckon. Or whatever they was doing. I gave them fifty-four dollars for her fine, and if I didn't, they were going to take her back and lock her up. Uptown at the old mayor's office, I paid them off when I got off work. I came on by there and paid them, gave them fifty-four dollars and taken her on home, and all the rest of them was ordered out.

Long: Yeah. OK. So, they brought you back to Grenada and handed you over to your parents.

Washington: Mm-hm.

Long: OK. Let's go from there. Now, you're in the public service, now. You're working in the public service. Could people do that nowadays?

Washington: No. No. No. The whole state would be sued. You cannot take a juvenile and carry him to prison without a hearing and custody orders and paperwork. No. But back then, they did. But, now, uh-uh. If they did that, we would not only be working for the public, paying them, but whoever you did it to would be rich. They could sue them upside, down. No. You cannot do it. But they did juveniles like that.

Long: So, that's one of the advantages in your participating in the freedom fight. You assured rights for others.

Washington: Correct. Definitely.

Long: Just go ahead, in any way you want to, now, and I promise not to take up all your time, but do you realize how interesting a story and how valuable in history your story is? I mean, it's just--. You know, I was in the movement. I can't hardly believe it. They didn't wash y'all down with water or anything, did they?

Washington: No.

Long: The women. They didn't do that.

Washington: No, they didn't do that.

Long: They just put you in a cell. They humiliated the men and then took y'all into a cell. Put you in a cell.

Washington: Yeah.

Long: Five to a cell?

Washington: Five or six. I believe it was six of us, but I'm not 100 percent sure. All I know, it was a crowded cell.

Long: Yeah. Everybody had a cot?

Washington: No. No, some of us was on the floor. Let me see. I think, you know, like, two would sleep together, and wasn't but two bunks in there.

Long: There wasn't but two in the whole place?

Washington: Uh-huh. Two bunks per cell. You know. They don't have but two bunks.

Long: Even if you double up, that means two on the floor.

Unknown Female Voice: Y'all ain't through, yet?

Long: We're almost. Now, if I could just get you to summarize what you said and then to give us some meaning as to what that has done with your life, then I'll be pretty much satisfied.

Washington: OK. The meaning that it has done, the movement itself, has made me a better person. Because it's one thing that was said that I still remember it: "Regardless of what happens, you have to be free within yourself." You know. They can't enslave you. You've got to be free yourself. And with this movement and dealing with the people, the way the racist whites, the police, everybody. It taught me. I'm able to sit down or stand up and talk with anyone. Anybody. I'm not afraid. I'm not afraid to speak out. Regardless. If you're a human being, I can talk to you. I'm not afraid of you. I'm not afraid to say what I believe in and stand up and fight for what I believe in. I've done it then, and I will do it, now. And I still do it.

And therefore they say, you know, "Like Rosie, the big mouth." But I am going to speak out and by working for the public now, it helps me to watch for the racism that we still have within the police department. And see, now, I just can't stand that. I just cannot. You're not going to run over my people, mistreat them, simply because of--. Nobody, regardless, because of the color of their skin or they're different, I'll stand up and fight for you. I just can't do it. And civil rights taught me this, and it made me a better person. It did.

Long: Yeah. Now, did you see the mule train when it came through?

Washington: Oh, yes. Definitely. I wanted to go on the mule train, but my mom wouldn't let me go.

Long: If you would just summarize that for me, and that's all I need.

Washington: I had this best friend that I would run with. Her name was Patricia Durr[?]. Pat died in a car wreck from a drunk driver, but the mule train was leaving and was going to Washington. And, of course, it was no doubt about it. My mom said, "Absolutely no way you're going." I stayed angry at her for a week, but it doesn't matter. She still wasn't going to let me go on that mule train. Pat went.

Long: Nineteen eighty-eight? Or nineteen--.

Washington: The first mule train was in--.

Long: Nineteen sixty?

Washington: Sixty-eight, I believe. Yeah. It was a little before Dr. King died.

Long: Right. Uh-huh. It was getting planned.

Washington: Now, I wanted to go on that one. She wouldn't let me. So Pat went. And I cried and was upset and angry at her. So, I made up this, at a mass meeting that we went to, I made up this, "My momma was a Nelly. My daddy was an Uncle Tom. They wouldn't let me go to freedom fighters. They made me stay at home." (Laughter.) So, I had to get them some kind of way.

Long: You sang that? (Laughter.)

Washington: Yeah. (Laughter.) Oh, I was all into it. I really was. Uh-huh.

Long: Well, OK. I just wanted to--. See, some people confuse the freedom--.

Unknown female voice: The SCLC came and got y'all.

Washington: From prison?

Unknown female voice: Uh-huh.

Long: Oh, OK.

Washington: Oh, OK. Because I really don't remember.

Long: Did they come back in trucks and cars?

Unknown female voice: They came back in cars.

Long: Uh-huh. So, we may want to add that as an addendum. That your mother says that--. You may want to say it.

Washington: You know, my mom says that SCLC came and got us in cars from prison, when we went to prison. That I couldn't recall how we got back. That's how we got back. OK.

Long: OK. Thank you so much. I mean it. Has anybody ever done any history?

Washington: Mm-mm.

Long: Yeah, see, because a lot of history is lost, now, on that particular movement.

Washington: Oh, definitely. It was definitely strong. And I just gave you bits and pieces of it, because it was definite. I mean, you know, I can tell so much. Everything. Like the meetings when they turned the lights out. In the blackout in Grenada. The Klan surrounding the church, and they were bombing the churches and since I got on the police force, they was laughing about that. Some of the policemen said they sat there and they watched the church burn, before, so that they're making sure it would not--. That when they called the fire department, they wouldn't be able to put it out. You know. All of this. Also, when they shot this guy up there on Franklin Street, the policemen. I mean, all of this was during the movement. Killed the guy that went to this white kitchen, went to this white place and--.

Long: Threw him out the window. Through a plate glass.

Washington: Mm-hm. And claimed he--. Yeah. All of that. You know.

Long: Well, thank you for what you've given me. And, now, y'all may want to eat, and I can do your mother at a time convenient to you. Well, it's inconvenient anyway, but ask her, please, when she may want to do it. Because I can wait.

Your daughter did a fine interview.

(End of the interview.)


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The University of Southern Mississippi | Last updated
25 October 2003 3:37 PM AA/EOE/ADAI