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.
John Daniel Wesley was born
on December 2, 1926, in Lincoln County, Mississippi. He had
one sister, one twin brother, and one other brother. His mother
was Mahannah Wesley, and his father was Fairley Wesley. Leasing
farmland from his father's cousin, the family farmed for a
living, growing cotton, corn, peas, and other such crops.
In 1945, Mr. Wesley was drafted into the Army and sent to
Germany to police that area. Upon his return to Mississippi,
he acquired farmland in Holmes County and began making his
living as a farmer.
Mr. Wesley has seven children,
some of whom were the first to integrate Mississippi's public
school in the midsixties. He currently serves on the Mileston
and Tchula, Mississippi area school board.
World War II 2
Registering to vote 3
Greenwood SNCC office 6
Poll tax 7
Reprisals for registering to
Mileston Cooperative 9
Public school integration 10
Burning of the Tchula city school
Representative Robert Clark
Agricultural Stabilization and
Conservation Service (ASCS) 14
Abe Osheroff 17
AN ORAL HISTORY
This is an interview for
the Civil Rights Documentation Project. The interview is with
Mr. John Daniel Wesley and is taking place on October 16,
1999. The interviewer is Harriet Tanzman.
talking with Mr. John Daniel Wesley, and it's October 16,
1999. Thank you for coming, Mr. Wesley.
you for having me.
Mr Wesley, can you just start off telling us a little about
when you were born and where and your own family?
yes. I was born down [in] south Mississippi, in Lincoln County.
There were three of us in my family, two boys, and one girl.
you the oldest?
I had a twin brother. And my sister was the older.
what date was that that you were born?
your parents names?
mother was named Mahannah, M-A-H-A-N-N-A-H. And my father's
name was Fairley Wesley. They all came from down in south
Mississippi, Lincoln County.
were they doing for a living? Were they living on a farm or
always lived on a farm and farmed.
it your own family's farm or some white man's farm or--?
my daddy always leased his farmland from a cousin of his.
about forty acres is what we had down there.
were you growing?
corn, and peas, and things like that.
did you go to school there in that area?
I went to school there. I left there when I was at the age
of fifteen, and moved from there to Tallahatchie County. And
we farmed two years, made two crops there and then my father
and my uncle decided to come back down here.
here to the Delta in Holmes County?
Holmes County. And they liked it, so they decided to move
down here. So, I went to school at Mileston for two years.
Then, I was drafted into the Army.
was the school like, when you were going? Was it an older--?
it Mileston Attendance Center?
just Mileston High School. Mm-hm. And it, you know, it was
We had good teachers, and it was fine, I think.
you were in the service. Was that during the war? During World
Wesley: I went
in service March, 1945, and I came out in 1946. October 1946.
So, we went to Germany. My brother and I were together. We
went to Germany. We were supposed to have been going down
to the South Pacific, and we had got [as] far as South Carolina,
and Japan surrendered, so we didn't go. They changed the orders,
and we went to Germany to do the policing.
After the war.
the war. I didn't get a chance to see any live action.
But you saw the remains of the war. Must have been pretty
you came back here to farm on your own or to live at home?
after I came out of the Army, I came back and helped my father
farm. And so then, later on, my father gave me a portion of
the land to farm, and my brother, you know, so we farmed that
way until my father got to the age where he didn't want to
farm any more. So, then I took over the farm, and I've been
around here ever since.
and your brother [were] both farming near each other, then?
we were. My brother--. My aunt's husband passed, so she let
him take over that land that they had. So, my brother farmed
until he passed in 1991.
OK. How was it in terms of getting FHA loans and getting furnished
by ASC[S][Agricultural Stabilization and Conservation Service]?
You know, how was that treatment during the forties [and]
I'm trying to figure out a way to describe this, now.
didn't have--. The only thing that hurt us was we didn't get
a chance to get our farm loans in time to, I figure, to make
a good crop, you know, because they were always late coming.
Well, so far as being treated, you know, harsh, or bad, or
something, you know, I didn't foresee a lot of that.
You just got the loans late which made it more difficult.
And, you know, it was always, "Boy, what you want?" You know.
Yeah, they talked--. How did you first get involved in the
movement, and what brought you to that or to first trying
to vote and so on? Was that early sixties?
1963 is when I got started to trying to exercise my right
to vote or get registered.
you had never tried that before?
people in the community come out and talk you into it, or,
how did you make that decision?
was a movement going on, you know, across the state of Mississippi,
and we got involved with the movement that was set up in Greenwood,
and then it came on down to Holmes County, down to Mileston.
We started having meetings.
was with some of the early SNCC workers? Like John Ball? Or,
John Ball, Amzie Moore.
Hollis Watkins. Hollis Watkins sung the first song that we
had when we began our movement.
Never will forget it.
was the song?
It won't come to me right, now, but I'll think about it. (Laughter.)
remember it. Singing brought people together, didn't it?
you just decided that was the time to do it.
yes. Yes. I figured if I had to go and serve this country
that we call ours, then I figured that, you know, I should
be able to vote just like anybody else.
I just figured that I was not going to back down, you know.
I was going to stick with it, and I did. And I've been with
it ever since 1963.
A long time. Now, when you all decided to go, that was the
first time a group of people went to the courthouse?
On that Sunday afternoon, we had a community meeting, and
from that meeting, they asked who would go and attempt to
register on that Tuesday morning. So, I was one of the first
said, "I will."
How many of you were there?
were thirteen of us, and one person joined us that morning
in Lexington. That afternoon, in Lexington, but, he disappeared.
I didn't know him then, and I wouldn't know him now. So, that
it mostly people from the Delta?
of them that went up that morning, came from the Mileston
area, in the Delta.
were most of you farmers?
all of us were farmers.
Reverend Russell[?] was there, too?
Reverend Russell, Mrs. Russell, Mrs. Alma Kornegay[?], T.L.
Lewis[?], Chester Hayes[?], Sam Redmond[?], Laura Redmond[?],
Mitchell[?], Annie Bell Mitchell[?]--that was his wife.
Wesley: I believe
I called Ms. Kornegay, didn't I?
if not, I'll call her again. (Laughter.) Because she was the
she and Hartman Turnbow. They kept everything going.
They spoke out a lot? You mean that day or in general?
that day that we went up there, it wasn't too much to be said
because everything moved so fast, you know. We got there about
eleven o'clock. So, Mr. Turnbow went in, into the circuit
clerk's office, and they told him they was fixing to close
that neighborhood. And so, he came back out. John Ball, Sam
Block[?] said, "Let's go to the SNCC office." And we never
knew, some said Sam Block [was] threatened in Lexington, but
I can't confirm that. All I know, he said, "Let's go to the
SNCC office." So, we loaded up and went all the way to Greenwood
to the SNCC office. Sam Block went through the front door
and right out the back door, and we never did see him anymore.
So, then John Ball said, "Well,
let's go back to Lexington." We got back to Lexington that
afternoon, around three o'clock if my memory serves me right,
and so, at that time, it was about three of us got there first.
Evidently, they were riding in my car with me. So, we walked
out up under the tree. That's where they made us stand.
under a tree. So, the sheriff came out, and so he walked up
to the group. He said, "Which one of y'all want to go in to
try to register? That's what you came up here for, ain't it?"
I said, "Sure. It doesn't matter
who go first."
He said, "Well, you come on."
And, I followed him in, and
he gave me--. They had the laws written down and cut up in
little strips, you know, and packed down into a fruit jar.
the pieces of the constitution? State constitution?
was the registrar then? Was that McCl--?
And they told me to get one out of the jar. So, you know,
what you had to do is just reach in there and pull up one,
you know. And I never will forget, I pulled up post facto
law. And, "What that mean?"
I said, "Well, I can't interpret
"Well, you can't register,
couldn't interpret it, either!
And so, well then, I was showed the door. You know? And so,
I had to go out the door and then somebody else, until all
of us went in there, but nobody could interpret whatever they
pulled out. They couldn't interpret what it means.
nobody actually got registered that day?
And so then, the law changed. Somebody changed the law. No
more laws in the jars. (Laughter.) And so, we--.
mean when they passed the Voting Rights Law in sixty-five.
that was before sixty-five. That was within the same week,
I think. The first day was that Wednesday. I believe we went
back within that same week. That's been thirty years, but
then they let us register.
they did? The same week?
Wesley: I believe
it was the same week.
Well, that was quite a victory.
there very few people registered in the whole county then?
they tell me, some of the older people, just a very few of
them, had paid poll tax, and so I think they had let just
a few of them register, very few.
you still have to pay poll tax that week?
week, no, we didn't have to. You know, we didn't have to pay
when you came back to the community, how did people respond
when you--? This was the first time a group went, so it really
was very public. Did they publish your names in the newspaper
and we were--. Mr. Louie[?] and I had insurance with Farm
Bureau Insurance Company. They canceled the insurance, and
we couldn't get any, right then. Not right around, you know,
in Holmes County. But we just kept pushing, so, finally we
got insurance wherever we wanted to, you know.
You got over that hurdle. Yeah. So, there were several women,
just some of the wives and Mrs.Kornegay.
Mr. Sam Redmond's wife, Laura. Mrs. Russell. Oh, I forgot
about Rose Bud Clark and Norman Clark. I know I was missing
And these were all independent farmers, right?
the main thing was the insurance, and the fact that they knew
who you were.
I don't know, somehow I managed to go along pretty good without
being harassed, you know, like some of the other people. I
don't know why, you know, but I never really had a rough time
from harassments, you know. But there are a lot of them who
did, and I know it, you know.
wasn't that just before Mr. Turnbow's house was firebombed,
was right after you went there?
was--. We went to the courthouse that night, I mean that day,
and somebody bombed his house that night. They threw firebombs
into the house.
I heard that he fought back.
yes. He fought back. And if it had not been for--. If he had
not fought back then, we all feel, that we would have had
a tougher time than we did. But he was strong enough to fight
back; then, they knew that everybody else was going to fight
When you started having the meetings, the community meetings,
did they begin in churches or was that, that's before the
community center. Was it hard to get a church to open up to
churches wouldn't, but the little church sitting right by
the old community center [did]. And that's where we got started,
in that little church. It's not there anymore. They remodeled
it. A part of it's there. They remodeled it.
they opened up right away? Just that one?
yes. Now, the churches in the community were, you know, we
could have meetings with them better than those that were
mean out? Oh, out by Mileston?
because we always, whenever we had meetings, we always had
guards, you know. If anything looked suspicious, everybody
got ready, you know. That's just the way it was. And it shouldn't
have been that way, but it was.
they send over police and sheriffs? Unidentified white people?
Was there harassment [at] a lot of meetings?
We had a highway patrolmen, [and] a constable. Well, it could
have been more than that. I don't know who all was in it,
but they would park on the highway, you know, where we were
coming out from the church, and harass the people, you know.
The patrolman sometimes would stop people and give them a
ticket. Pretend like they ran a stop sign or something. It
was pretty often.
do you think some of the strength came from for the people?
The courage to keep going? You think it was a mixture of them
helping each other out before, through the cotton gin and
all the rest of it? Or, how do you think people were so strong
in that area of the county?
we had two reasons, or maybe more, but the SNCC movement helped
out a whole lot, you know. They gave people a lot of courage,
and kept our morale built up, you know. So, the people just--.
I guess I could say, the people just got mad and say, "We're
going to do it!"
the movement came in, weren't there kinds of cooperative things
going on in the community before that, too?
had the Mileston Co-op in the community at that time.
was a farmer's co-op.
wasn't like it should have been, you know. People--. I don't
know why. People just didn't trust each other, I guess.
was the cooperative part? Was it the gin? The cotton gin part?
had a store and the gin. The store sold some products. It
didn't sell--. Well, at the beginning, well, I mean, when
I first came in the community, it was doing pretty good. They
sold farm products, like wire, and stuff like that that farmers
needed, but it just started going down.
the idea that the profits from the co-op would go back to
the community? Is that how it was co-opped?
that's the way it was supposed to have done. And it done pretty
good for a while.
about the gin? Cotton gin?
cotton gin ginned cotton, in the first beginning, most of
the ginning was for members. And then, later on it was opened
up to--. And the members didn't include the Choctaw community.
But eventually, they opened it up to where everybody could
gin and become a member.
Choctaw the area where the government had let people buy their
that's the area that Shadrack Davis[?] and (inaudible) Hayes
it eventually opened up to everyone?
wanted to ask you something. I know you've been active in
school questions, more recently. I wonder if you could go
back. I know it's quite a ways back, but to the beginning
of the attempt to integrate the schools. Did you have children
who were going at that time? It was the midsixties.
many kids do you have?
Wesley: I have
they were schoolage then?
all seven. I don't remember how many were! (Laughter.)
did you have any kids who were trying to go to the better
We went to Tchula to try to integrate it. Well, we did go
there, but when we went, all of the white kids moved out.
Then, somebody burned it.
the white kids left, right away? What, they went to the private
then they burned down the school?
down Tchula School. That's the city school, you know.
So, what did you all do?
is in what? Nineteen sixty-five or so?
Wesley: I believe
it was sixty-five. And we said that we were going to rebuild
it, but somehow we didn't rebuild it.
there only was the one public school that had been the segregated
black school? Was that the Tchula Attendance Center?
No, this was Tchula City School. Tchula Attendance Center
at that time was Marshall High School[?]. No. I'm sorry. It
was Tchula Attendance Center then, from that to Marshall High.
when they burned down the city school, then the only school
left for the kids to go to was the--?
been Tchula Attendance Center?
that continue through the seventies and eighties?
never built another school.
about the elementary level?
at Marshall High, too.
All of it's together, now.
the little children went to try to integrate the schools,
did they go into another school, a previously white school?
hadn't been but a very few white children that has gone to
the public school in Holmes County. Very few.
the white kids get money from--? The ones who don't have so
much money, do they get their tuition paid by the richer ones?
what I've been told. Mm-hm.
the school situation hasn't changed a lot over the years.
a whole lot. It's much better now than it has been. And it's,
each year, to me, it's better, you know, gets better as the
years go by.
did you start getting involved? Like, when did they start
running people for school board? I know people ran for local
elections from way back, but when did people start getting
involved in the schools in terms of trying to run them? Run
for the school board? Was that back in the late sixties?
Wesley: I believe
that began in the seventies. I believe.
Well, who is on the school board now?
Ms. Ann Polk, who is the city clerk in Tchula, Mr. Charles
Hurst[?], who lives out near Lexington, and Mrs. Sandra Young,
who lives over at Goodman[?]. And James Anderson.
Anderson. He's the chairman.
many black people and how many white are on it?
OK. And this is the school board of this area, Mileston and
it made a difference to have Representative Robert Clark in
the legislature, in terms of schools? I mean, has he been
able to affect any monies coming in or any policies, or no?
(Laughter.) Shouldn't I ask you that? I know when he was elected,
nobody else, hardly anybody, in the county was elected locally.
So, I know that was hard.
That one, I might bypass.
We'll bypass this one. (Laughter.) OK, so, the schools have
improved some over the years?
they have improved. We have, I think, a very, very, very good
you can work with. Who is that?
Judge Nelson. Some of the older school board members and superintendents,
they say we have the best working relationship that has ever
been in Holmes County, serving as board members and superintendents.
Well, that's good. When you all had the early meetings--again,
bringing it back to the midsixties or so--when people were
beginning to do things like send their kids to the schools
and so on, what was the reprisals or response from the white
community? Was it just mostly that they took their kids out?
Or were there other adverse things that happened? Because,
I moved here in sixty-six, and I remember people said the
Klan had been around.
they did. Yeah, they dropped what is said to be bombs around
the community center over there out in the road. And, of course,
we didn't lose any churches.
they didn't burn any churches?
they didn't burn any churches.
that partly because they were guarded when--? Oh, but you
didn't meet in every church.
we didn't meet in every church, but the one that we did meet
in, during the meetings and all, you know, we always had lookout
people. Always. And so, I'm not sure whether that kept them
from bombing, or not.
FDP? I remember there were the ASC[S] [Agricultural Stabilization
and Conservation Service] selections that were held in the
sixties. I guess they have been held regularly, but there
was one point where black farmers were running for those boards.
Could you tell us what the ASC[S] did? What those boards were
Wesley: I ran
for the ASCS committee, twice. See, they had that constructed
where you couldn't win anyway.
anybody could vote.
who had land? Or anybody?
who had land could vote. But see, when they--. It's been so
long now, but they had it--. Hm, how'd that thing go? But
anyway, when guests of the county convention, most all of
the black ones [were] eliminated anyway. Because we didn't--.
You know, black folks didn't follow through as they should
mean even if you were elected to a local committee, you didn't
You could get on the local committee, but when you get to
the county, you're already eliminated.
with the ASC[S], could you refresh my memory? Were they the
boards that, the committees that decided about loans? Or what
did they do exactly?
That's FHA that worked with loans. ASCS (inaudible) come,
you know, like, land development and stuff like that, you
know. Land services and all of that.
OK. So, they okayed monies that would go for land development
and other services?
you ran, were there other people running in the county? Was
that one of the projects FDP was doing? Were you the only
one from the Delta who was running?
Wesley: I believe
I was the only one from the Delta.
you tried twice?
you didn't have to be a voter, you had to prove that you had
land? That you owned land?
the years, I know a lot of the farmers have been getting older
some, and the kids haven't always stayed here. What has developed,
and has there been any movement to try to keep land from being
lost or stolen or taken away from farmers? Because, I know
you used to have a lot of black-owned land, for example, in
yes. We don't have a lot of it now that's being lost, but
what happens, and this has been happening a long time: if
I don't get enough money to make a crop this year, next year
(inaudible). And they're automatically (inaudible). And then,
if you couldn't come up with that payment when they said,
then they'd just take all the land.
I see. So, the land was like the security for the loan.
So, there have been a lot of people who lost their land by
doing that. Some bought cars. Well, they didn't buy them,
you know, they got them and say, "Well, you can get what you
want. If you want (inaudible)."
if they couldn't pay that--?
I got in and had a problem one time. FHA refused to give me
a loan that year and I went to (inaudible). (A portion of
the tape is inaudible.) How much of it you want to take?
I said, "I don't know." (Inaudible.)
Make the check out for the whole deal. It was one of those
chairs with the wheels on it. He'd keep backing, and then
he wheeled around. He looked at me. (Inaudible.)
He said, "You want to pay it
I said, "I'm old. Your daddy's
old, now. I'm getting out of it."
He said, "You know what? Anything
you want we have, you can get it. You want a new car today,
you can get it."
And I said, "I don't know.
We'll see about it." So, I got out of the trap, you know.
But everybody didn't get out of it.
didn't always realize what they were getting into.
meetings that were held at the community center, was it primarily
farmers, or was it a mixture of farmers and plantation workers
or who was the strength of it?
few plantation owners. There were some, but when it first
started, it got started only with the landowners around in
the community, but the plantation workers, some of them soon
came in, because they didn't like the deal that they were
getting, you know?
So, they must have been risking quite a bit to come.
some of them were told to move from the plantation.
percentage in this area? How much of it was black-owned land?
Were there a lot of big plantations? White-owned plantations?
most of them went from fifty-something acres up to possibly
eighty, seventy or eighty acres.
is the white-owned land? Or the black-owned? Oh, fifty (inaudible).
Were you familiar with Providence community that they--?
Could you tell me a little about that history in the early
Wesley: I don't
know too much about what went on out there. I know they had
a white doctor out there. (Inaudible.)
there were very few doctors, from what Rosie was telling me,
that would see people.
wasn't. She was right.
(End of tape one, side one.
The interview continues on tape one, side two.)
that was in the fifties?
During that time, doctors made house calls. All you had to
do was call him, he would come out.
was health care otherwise? Were there any hospitals nearby
that would see black people? Or were they all segregated?
Greenwood or Lexington?
I think they could go to the hospitals.
very few doctors. When I heard about him, he sounded like
a legend. You know? I mean, he made a big difference. The
summer of sixty-four, were you real involved in the movement
then, when they were building the community center? Or was
that that summer?
sure. I was right in the thick of things. It was built by
a man named Abe--.
Yeah, I heard it was hard to find a place to hold it, right
away. It's a beautiful center. Did that make a big difference
in the movement, to be able to have meetings there?
Wesley: I think
it did because back then, people didn't have (inaudible),
so we were given a lot of food and clothing through the community
centers, so it worked real well.
was given to anyone in need. What about the FDP local meetings?
Were they mostly developed out of the first people who tried
to register and some of the SNCC people? You started small
and grew it?
it started small and it, you know, just kept building. Started
in Holmes County.
terms of the schools, did most of the kids kind of see their
future as trying to leave as soon as possible? Or did some
of them, when the movement started getting stronger, did some
of the young people start getting involved, too, within the
movement, or was it mostly the farmers and the people from
the towns, the older people? Like the time of the freedom
schools, were the kids pretty active, too? With FDP?
The kids, you know, wasn't a problem to get. It wasn't a problem
to get them to fall in line. (A portion of the tape is inaudible.)
But the FDP wanted (inaudible) to have a march (inaudible).
They came out for the action, direct action. Yeah. I know
you had a series of boycotts, in terms of (inaudible) wanting
to integrate the stores in the seventies, right? Mr. Wesley,
are you OK?
I was trying to think.
were marches and protests going on, well, I know it was way
after I left, so it was in the late sixties, seventies. Was
that partly around the police? Problems with the police?
(The recording on the tape ends
at this point in the interview.)