An Oral History

With

Will O. 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.



2000

Biography



Mr. Will Oatis Washington was born in Grenada, Mississippi. His father, Oatis Washington, worked at a log mill, and his mother, Hattie Collins Washington, did domestic work. He was the sixth of eight children. When he was sixteen, he witnessed Dr. Martin Luther King and Stokely Carmichael as they marched on South Street in Grenada, having taken up James Meredith's March Against Fear after Mr. Meredith was shot around Sardis, Mississippi. In the sixties, Mr. Washington became active in SCLC, testing public accommodations in restaurants, and being arrested three times for his movement activities, including a stint at Parchman Penitentiary when he was a teenager.

Table of Contents



Childhood 1

Inequities in education 3

Meredith march, 1966 4

Rally on the courthouse square in Grenada 6

SCLC comes to Grenada 7

Testing public accommodations 8

Arrest 10

Desegregating the Little Widget 11

Sent to Parchman Penitentiary as a minor 13

SCLC makes bail 18

Dr. Martin Luther King at Bellflower A.M.E. Church 20

Law enforcement beating of Big Moe Lester 21

Mule train 23

Jasper Neely 24

Rosie Washington 24

Henry Peacock 24

Voting as empowerment 26

Military service 30

AN ORAL HISTORY



with



WILL O. WASHINGTON



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



Long: OK. Would you tell me your name and where and when you were born, please?



Washington: My name is Will Oatis Washington. I was born at 373 Union Street.



Long: Mm-hm. And where is that?



Washington: Here in Grenada, Mississippi.



Long: Uh-huh. What was it like growing up in Grenada?



Washington: For a black child it was rough. You know. If you knew anything that was going on during the times, it was rough. Yes.



Long: Right. OK. Who were your parents? And what had you gone through? Their names and where they were born?



Washington: My father was Oatis Washington, and my mother was Hattie[?] Washington. Hattie Collins[?] Washington.



Long: Mm-hm. And they were from?



Washington: They were from an area out near the Grenada dam, called Red Grass[?].



Long: OK. So, what kind of work would they have been doing early on?



Washington: My father was working at a paper mill. At a, well, a log camp. A log mill. And my mother was working in houses, in white people's houses.



Long: Uh-huh. Domestic work.



Washington: Domestic work.



Long: Mm-hm. That's fine. And how many children did they have?



Washington: Eight.



Long: Mm-hm. Can you remember all their names?



Washington: Yes. I have a brother. My oldest brother is T.W. Washington. I had a sister, Martha Nell[?] Washington[?] who has passed, a sister Beulah[?] Washington, a sister Willie Rae[?] Washington, a sister Lucille, a sister Joan, a brother Robert Louis, and myself, Will.



Long: What number child are you?



Washington: I was the sixth.



Long: OK. Knee baby.



Washington: Yeah. (Laughter.)



Long: Yeah. Now, when you were born, where were your parents? What place?



Washington: On Union Street.



Long: On Union Street?



Washington: Yeah. Seven, six, three Union Street.



Long: So, they had moved here--.



Washington: Yeah. They had been here a while.



Long: Uh-huh. Can you tell me just what it was like growing up inside your family, in this Grenada community at that time? Just talk to me for a while about [it].



Washington: Well, just in the Grenada community it was pretty nice, you know, as long as we stayed in our community playing with each other. You know. The children, family, and friends.



Long: Staying in your place.



Washington: Yeah. That's right.



Long: OK. So, talk about that.



Washington: It was a normal childhood, you know, in our community where we just played different games and had a good time.



Long: Like what? Tell me a little bit about what y'all played.



Washington: Jump rope, hopscotch, shooting marbles. We had a mill down here called the lumbar yard, we would say it is. And we used to go down there and get sticks that they used to make hardwood floors and get on it and ride them like the stick was our horse. You know. So, we had a great time doing that. Rolling tires.



Long: Right. How far away was school?



Washington: About a quarter of a mile. Right over the hill here from the house.



Long: Uh-huh. And did the bus come by your house to pick you up?



Washington: No. No. We walked. Everybody walked. It's right across the street over here. Yes. Mm-hm.



Long: If y'all had been living, as a black family, across town, how would you have gotten to school?



Washington: You would have walked or your parents would have taken you.



Long: Uh-huh. So, you walked, regardless.



Washington: Yeah. We walked to school. Yes.



Long: There were no buses?



Washington: There were no buses in the area that I knew of. I'll say that. Yes.



Long: Did you ever, during that time, see a school bus for anybody?



Washington: Not during the early years. No. Mm-mm.



Long: So, when the white kids went to their school, what did they have?



Washington: They had--. You know, they had buses.



Long: They had buses.



Washington: Yes. Right.



Long: So, what does that tell you about that time?



Washington: Well, about the unequal treatment. You know.



Long: Uh-huh. OK.



Washington: One of the things that stuck out in my mind was our school books. You know. Our school books were already raggedy and tattered, and we had to make sure that we took care of that, so that at the end of the year we wouldn't have to pay for it. If they were torn any worse. So, that stuck out in my mind.



Long: And where did the school books come from?



Washington: From the white schools. After they had used them. You know. And worn them out. Then we got them.



Long: Right. OK. Did you ever look in the book and see somebody's name you knew?



Washington: Well, no, I didn't. I could say I never did, but I knew that each year that you used them, you had to sign them, and I saw a lot of names that I didn't know. But you know, I could tell some of them were white. You know. The majority of them were.



Long: Now, finally, tell me about when freedom came. When you remember people standing up for their rights in your community.



Washington: I remember when they first came to town to help us stand up for our rights, I was in Memphis. I had just gotten back to town, and I saw, you know, a whole bunch of people standing around. I was wondering what was going on.



Long: Mm-hm. This was about what year?



Washington: That was in sixty-six. And they informed me that people had come to town and said they were going to help us get our freedom.



Long: Did they tell you where they had come from? Where they started out?



Washington: Different destinations. Some had come from Alabama, Tennessee, all the way up to Chicago. Different places. Yeah.



Long: So, if it was sixty-six, that must have been the Meredith march.



Washington: That's right.



Long: So, that was what? What did they call it?



Washington: He was then attending Ole Miss or about to attend Ole Miss College. (Inaudible.)



Long: What did you hear about what he was trying to accomplish when he left Memphis and was going on this March Against Fear? Can you remember anything that they said about that march? Before or after?



Washington: Nothing just stands out in my mind about it, other than bringing attention to, you know, the problems of the white school then. The college.



Long: Uh-huh. So, James Meredith had been one of the first people to go to what school?



Washington: Ole Miss. Yes.



Long: Alright. Now, on this march, when he tried to march, your friend Mr. Peacock was saying that they shot him when he crossed over from--.



Washington: Yeah. They shot him, I believe, somewhere up around Sardis, Mississippi. Yes.



Long: And Dr. King and CORE, Mr. McKissick[?], and Stokely Carmichael from SNCC, they decided to take up the march. And they were heading down this way.



Washington: Yes. That's right.



Long: He saw them when they crossed the river. What is that--?



Washington: The Yalobusha River.



Long: The Yalobusha River.



Washington: On Highway 51.



Long: When did you see them?



Washington: I saw them probably when they made it down to South Street.



Long: Uh-huh. And tell me. Just tell me about that time.



Washington: As a young child, I was just excited. Apprehensive, in a way. You know. Not knowing what was about to take place, but, you know, really excited. That would be the main thing.



Long: You say, young. You would be about?



Washington: About sixteen.



Long: About sixteen?



Washington: Yeah.



Long: Mm-hm. So, what did you do? (Laughter.)



Washington: From the beginning, like a lot of people, I wanted to know exactly what was going on, so I stood back, and watched, from the side. Mm-hm.



Long: When is the first time that you ever came in contact with, what did y'all call them? Freedom fighters?



Washington: Yeah. Freedom fighters. The first time I came in contact with them, they had a rally up on the square here in Grenada. And I went up to hear what they were talking about. That was my first contact.



Long: You mean to tell me they had a rally out in the--?



Washington: Out in the open.



Long: --courthouse square?



Washington: In the courthouse square. Yes. In the town square. That's what it was.



Long: Out there on that grass?



Washington: Out on the grass. (Laughter.) In front of the white statue that they didn't like for us to be around.



Long: The Confederate statue?



Washington: Oh, yeah.



Long: Oh, Lord!



Washington: Oh, yeah. (Laughter.)



Long: And who did you see up there trying to--?



Washington: People from Grenada or what?



Long: Yeah. Did you see any leaders from SCLC that you later knew?



Washington: Yeah, the main ones sticks out in my mind is Cottonreader and Hosea.



Long: Cottonreader and Hosea Williams.



Washington: Yes.



Long: And, so, tell me about what kinds of things they were doing. That's hard to believe.



Washington: That's hard to believe, and it was something to behold. You know. The way they were talking about white people with white people standing there. You know.



Long: Tell me. What were they saying?



Washington: (Laughter.) Just saying, you know, how we would have to break down the strongholds of the white man. You know. We had been slaves too long, and we would no longer, you know, tolerate that.



Long: Yeah. And what examples did they give of the enslavement of black people in Grenada?



Washington: The places that we couldn't go and where we spent our money. And, you know, like, in one of our eating establishments here called the Chicken Inn, we had to go there to the back door. Had a little hole in the wall, where the black people went in to be waited on. Then we had Bloodwurst[?], a little café, as they called it. You had to go around to the back and get your food, and you stood outdoors to wait on it. So, you know, different places like that.



Long: Right. And what happened in terms of trying to meet their demands? What did they do? Did they organize the students?



Washington: Yeah. They organized the town. They organized the town. They started at a church called Bellflower, and that's where we had a rally, you know, to get the people organized.



Long: Mm-hm. Just continue to talk about it as if it were--.



Washington: And we had--. You know, when they had the first meeting that I attended, that's what they were talking about. Organize the people and getting them where they could get in contact with everybody when they wanted to have a march or a picket or anything. To picket the stores and the establishments here in Grenada.



Long: Right. Uh-huh. Alright. Did they set up any teams to go and test the different places?



Washington: Oh, yes.



Long: Tell me about it.



Washington: That was one of the main things that they did. Sent, along with some of their people that had been through different situations, they sent people from Grenada out with them. And, you know, to test different people and see what reactions they would get from the white people. And it was rough.



Long: Tell me about some of them.



Washington: Alright. Some of the places I went to. I went to Chicken Inn. The Chicken Inn I was telling you about. I went to the front, and we sat down at the counter. And told the people that we wanted a burger, a drink, or whatever you wanted. And it got pretty hostile. You know. They wouldn't wait on us, and had threats from some of the white men that were in there. And of course, they called the police, and we were escorted out.



Long: They just threw you out?



Washington: Yes.



Long: Uh-huh. Now, who was the team leader when you went to the Chicken Inn? Do you remember who?



Washington: I can't remember if it was Cottonreader or Hosea.



Long: About how many people?



Washington: How many? About fifteen. Yeah.



Long: Uh-huh. Y'all sat down?



Washington: Yeah.



Long: And what did you do?



Washington: Just ordered a drink. (Laughter.) Yeah.



Long: Did they have a place for you around back, though?



Washington: Oh, yeah. And that was the whole thing. We were tired of going to the back. You know. So, we wanted to go to the front where everybody else was going, per se.



Long: In Grenada, Mississippi.



Washington: In Grenada, Mississippi.



Long: Had you lost your mind?



Washington: I was told I had. (Laughter.) Especially when the police got there. They asked us, you know, wasn't the door still around there that you used to go in? And we told them we no longer wanted to use that door. So, you know. Yeah, we had lost our minds. (Laughter.) We had lost our mind. We were following the outside agitators. That was what they called, you know, SCLC. That's who I was associated with. Outside agitators.



Long: OK. Now, what else did y'all do? Now, so, you tested them.



Washington: Yes.



Long: And you found out what?



Washington: We found out that you would be arrested if you just did things that normally you should be able to do every day.



Long: Right.



Washington: Yes.



Long: And then, did they have a meeting that night to talk about it?



Washington: Yeah. Every time we went out. Every different date, we'd have a meeting later that night to see what everybody went through. You know. And what strategy they would have to get together the next time when we went out.



Long: Tell me about the strategy on Chicken Inn.



Washington: Well, the strategy on Chicken Inn was just to continue to go there. Just be persistent. You know. People got arrested, but, you know, every time someone got arrested, they just sent out another team.



Long: Uh-huh. And if they were arrested, where would they take them?



Washington: They would take them to the city jail. Then, it was a big, old dilapidated building where they kept everybody. And that's where we were taken.



Long: We?



Washington: Different people doing marching.



Long: Were you ever arrested?



Washington: I was arrested three times.



Long: Tell me about the three.



Washington: Alright. First time I was arrested for just congregating up on the square downtown.



Long: You were on the white folks' grass, though.



Washington: That's the thing. (Laughter.) That's the thing. On the white folks' grass without permission! That was it. Without permission.



Long: OK. That's one of them.



Washington: Yes. And the second time, I was arrested down on Plum Street for unlawful assembly.



Long: What were you doing?



Washington: Just standing there singing and talking. People as a group.



Long: What [were] you singing. Tell me. What were y'all singing?



Washington: Well, some of them crazy songs. "We Ain't Going to Let No White Folks Turn Us Around."



Long: Oh, man! (Laughter.)



Washington: And "Oh, Freedom Over Me." Yes. Yes.



Long: About how many people?



Washington: Probably about three or four hundred. Yes.



Long: And that's down at the end of Plum Street?



Washington: That's down on the north end of Plum Street.



Long: Uh-huh. And there are some buildings in that area.



Washington: Yeah. That's right behind a building that they call the Little Widget[?]. That was a hang-out for the white people. A big hang-out for the younger kids. The younger white kids. And that was (inaudible). Yes.



Long: But it was close to the black community?



Washington: Oh, it was in the black community. Yeah.



Long: What did you call it? The Little?



Washington: Little Widget.



Long: What did they do when they went in there?



Washington: In the Little Widget?



Long: Yeah.



Washington: They went in and ordered drinks and, you know, ice cream. It was for young kids. And played the juke box, as they called it. And had a good time. Yeah. And that was another place where we had to go to the back door and stand outdoors and be waited on.



Long: The Widget.



Washington: The Widget. The Little Widget. Yes.



Long: What if you went around for the Little Widget?



Washington: If you went around to the front, if the kids didn't jump on you, of course, they called the police, and you were arrested. Yes.



Long: And this is nineteen?



Washington: Sixty-six. Mm-hm.



Long: Did y'all know that there was a public accommodations act? That the United States had said that people had a right to go into publicly supported areas or places that were engaged in interstate commerce, and so forth?



Washington: At that age, we really didn't think about it, because we were, you know, conditioned over the years. Our people were conditioned to stay in our area, you know, in our neighborhoods. And the places that we went to, the older people were already going to the back doors and stuff, so we didn't think about it. It was just something that we did that we knew. You know. That's all.



Long: Mm-hm. And what convinced you, though, that you ought to be freedom bound?



Washington: When the movement came to town. That's when we were convinced. You know, listening to Hosea, and Cottonreader, and Dr. King, who, you know, later came to town. Listening to them tell us what we should have been doing all the time. You know. How we should have been living. And that convinced us that we no longer wanted to be in the situation we were in. Yes.



Long: That's OK. Now, your mother and your family. Come on, tell me what they said.



Washington: Right. Well, my mother had mixed emotions. You know. Because she knew about the white people and how they were. You know. And she didn't want her children hurt, so, she had mixed emotions, but never once did she stop me from going. You know. She talked about it, how she was afraid, but she didn't--.



Long: Yeah. Now, did you understand that her job might be in jeopardy?



Washington: When I first started, I didn't. I didn't understand that. You know. She never would press that issue.



Long: The issue of?



Washington: Of how her job would be affected if I was out in the street like that, because she knew that the people she worked for would find out that I was out there, some kind of way. But she never denied me, you know, the right to go. She never did.



Long: Uh-huh. And did they find out?



Washington: Oh, yeah. They knew. Yeah. She didn't really talk about it. You know. When she would come home from work, it was certain things she would say that I could gather that she knew I had been out that day. You know. But she never did really talk about it.



Long: Mm-hm. And there were some people who lost their jobs.



Washington: A lot of people.



Long: Lot of people?



Washington: Yes.



Long: But the family she worked for--.



Washington: The family she worked for, evidently, didn't press the issue because she stayed there years. Yes.



Long: That's good.



Washington: Mm-hm.



Long: Did you know the children of the family that she worked for?



Washington: I knew one. That's all. Yeah. We never did have any contact. So, naw, I didn't know them.



Long: OK. Now, we have talked about two of the places where you were arrested.



Washington: Yes. Alright. And the third time I was arrested is the time that we went to Parchman to the state penitentiary.



Long: I beg your pardon?



Washington: The third time was when I went to the state penitentiary.



Long: Tell me about that whole thing. What set it up and how'd you get there? What happened and how did you get back? Just go on and tell me that as a whole story.



Washington: Well, this was another march that we had. And we congregated together just hundreds of people. And we were told that we were unlawfully assembled and that we would have to disperse. And we told them, you know, "This is our town. We pay taxes. We can assemble any time we get ready." And they told us no, we couldn't. And we went on about our business. You know. Having the meeting and somebody--. I remember somebody saying, "Look. They coming back. Look what they got." And they had cattle trucks, driving up. And they told us to disperse, and anybody that didn't disperse or leave, they would be arrested and placed on the truck. So, some people did leave, but a lot of people didn't. And I was one of the people that didn't leave. So, I was thrown on a cattle truck. A truck that had just come in with cows and had cow manure on it. They hadn't cleaned the trucks. Yes.



Long: And then, what did they say? Did they say, "You're under arrest"? Or--?



Washington: They told us that we were under arrest. Yes. And they didn't tell us a whole lot. To me, when they first did that, they were trying to play a mind game with us. You know. They didn't tell us where we were going or nothing. They just told us to get on the truck. And after they got the truck loaded--.



Long: The policemen were driving the truck?



Washington: The policemen were driving the truck. Yes.



Long: And after they got it loaded?



Washington: After they got it loaded, they headed out of town, and I remember us going down the road wondering where were they taking us because they told us nothing. And we made it about ten miles out of town, and some of us were saying they would probably stop and make us walk back to town. You know. Then we got fifteen miles out of town, and we were wondering. You know. Twenty miles. And then, you know, we were kind of afraid of what might happen. But they continued and the next thing we knew we were looking up in the front of the penitentiary.



Long: Yeah. Now, who were the drivers up front in the cattle truck? And were they armed?



Washington: They had arms. I don't remember the drivers being armed, but they had Highway Patrol cars following behind us to make sure no one could jump off. Yes.



Long: OK. Did anybody think about it?



Washington: Most of the people on the truck that I was on thought about it. Yes. But we didn't. Yeah.



Long: Now, you're driving into Parchman Prison.



Washington: That's right. That's the state penitentiary of Mississippi. Yes.



Long: And that's up at?



Washington: It's between what? Lambert and--.



Unidentified Voice: Ruleville?



Washington: Somewhere. Yeah, Lambert and Ruleville.



Long: So, you're talking about the Delta.



Washington: Yeah. Over in the Delta. Yes.



Long: And when y'all saw that was Parchman they were taking you into, what was your reaction?



Washington: Different reactions. You know.



Long: What was your reaction?



Washington: My reaction was, "What's going on? Are they bringing us over here just to scare us?" Because a thing we had heard, you know--. To stay or what. We just didn't know what was about to happen. Yes. So. You know.



Long: Tell me what went on after you went through the gates.



Washington: When we went through the gates, they stopped the trucks and told us to get out. We went in and one by one, they took us in a room supposedly to search us. And they, you know, disrobed us. We had to undress and the thing that stood out in the men's minds that the women were on the back of the truck, and they left it right in the front of the building, and we had to undress in front of everybody. You know. Yes. But they continued to check you out in every orifice that you had. You know. In your mouth. Under your arm. They checked everything. Made you bend over and open your behind to check you and see if you had anything.



Long: And the young women on the truck were looking the whole time.



Washington: Yeah. They could see us. Yeah.



Long: OK. They didn't have anybody who was not nonviolent? Everybody just went on and followed nonviolence?



Washington: Everybody. Yes.



Long: Now, what happened then?



Washington: Then we were given cells. They took us to our cells and for a while--I don't know how long, you know--you were in your cell without any clothes. Yes.



Long: So, if you wanted to wash off, where did you wash off?



Washington: They had a little, small basin in there to wash in. Yes. And a little toilet right there. You know. That everybody used. That was in the cell.



Long: What about the beds?



Washington: The beds were metal. Metal beds. And they had no mattress on them. No sheets. Just metal. And if you wanted to lay down, you had to lay down on the metal.



Long: How many people per cell? Your cell?



Washington: I believe it was two. Just me and one more man in my cell. Yeah.



Long: I see. So, you each had a bed?



Washington: Yes.



Long: But it's metal?



Washington: Yeah. It's metal. With no clothes and no covering. Yeah.



Long: How long did that go on?



Washington: Oh, we got over somewhere, I guess, in the afternoon, and that went on till late in the night, when they brought us clothes and covering. Yes.



Long: OK. Did you get a chance to wash or anything?



Washington: Nothing other than what you did right in the--.



Long: Right in the [cell].



Washington: Yes.



Long: OK. Now, you had never been to jail before.



Washington: Never been to jail in my life.



Long: What were you thinking?



Washington: I--. It was an experience. It really was. You know.



Long: How were you feeling? I should ask.



Washington: Well, in a way, afraid. Yes. Uh-huh.



Long: And how old was the other person who was in your cell?



Washington: Fifteen.



Long: Fifteen?



Washington: Uh-huh. He was George Drinkwater[?], one of my closest friends.



Long: And how did y'all pass the time? First of all, let's say how long were you in Parchman?



Washington: We were there, I believe, four or five days. Yes. Mm-hm.



Long: Tell me how you spent the time.



Washington: Spent the time singing. After we knew that we were there awhile, spent the time singing and joking and everybody got kind of loose. And, you know, not feeling like they wasn't going to do anything to us, because they hadn't. So, just like we always did, we were singing freedom songs.



Long: Like what? What was you singing?



Washington: "I Ain't Going to Let Nobody Turn Me Around." That was our favorite song. No matter what they did, they weren't going to turn us around. Yes. That was (inaudible). Yes.



Long: OK. Now, after y'all endured five days, about, in Parchman Prison, Mississippi, what happened?



Washington: Then they came and got us and brought us back to Grenada. Took us to the City Hall.



Long: Who came?



Washington: The policemen. You know. Highway Patrolmen. Different people. Yes.



Long: You went to City Hall?



Washington: We went to the city hall.



Long: And what happened there?



Washington: They took us in there in different rooms, trying to get us to say that we would never march again. You know. That this is it. And they couldn't convince anybody. It was about five of us, and no one in there said that they wouldn't march again. So, they threatened that we would have to go back to Parchman. And you know, no one cared. No one I was with cared. Because we said, "This is it. We tired of this treatment." Especially the treatment we had just received; so, we wasn't going to turn around. Yes.



Long: Right. So, how did you get home.



Washington: Well, they said they set the bail for us, and it was paid.



Long: I see.



Washington: Yes. SCLC paid the bail.



Long: They paid the bail?



Washington: Yes. And we were all released.



Long: Uh-huh. OK. Now, let's say you're coming home to your house that night. Your mother and your father and your family are at home. Tell me about the attitude.



Washington: The attitude in my house was gladness that nothing had happened to me. You know. Yeah. My father wasn't real outspoken on the situation at all. I could tell. You know. He had one leg, and I could tell by his expression that some of the things he said, if he was able, he would have been right out there with me. You know. Like I say, my mother did most of the work for our family because she had a steady job in houses, kitchens. So, all she said is she was glad we weren't hurt. Yeah.



Long: Had you missed school?



Washington: Yes, we missed school.



Long: So, tell me about going back to school.



Washington: Going back to school?



Long: Yeah. You had to go--.



Washington: I would say our teachers, the classes I was in, were glad that we had done what we did. Yes. Mm-hm.



Long: That's fine. And your best friends and other friends, did y'all have--. What time of the year--. Just tell me about when that was.



Washington: It was during the summer. Yeah.



Long: OK. So, sports wasn't going on?



Washington: Yes. Well, let me see. No. Sports wasn't going. That was when we were in jail that the sports was going on.



Long: Sports were going on when you were in jail?



Washington: Yeah, one time we were in jail and some of the men in there, some of the young men were playing. They were the football stars at our school.



Long: And they missed that.



Washington: And they missed that. And that was the leverage that the policemen tried to use on them to get them to stop marching. "We'll let you out. You can go back to your school, play your game. Because you know you're good. And you don't want to miss performing in front of people." But no one left. Everybody stayed. Yes.



Long: Can you think of anybody's name who was in that situation?



Washington: I can name J.W. Kent[?], Billy Joe Kendall[?], and Emmett Rimmer[?].



Long: And what sport did they play?



Washington: Football. Yeah.



Long: Y'all pretty good?



Washington: Oh, Grenada was good. (Laughter.) They were a championship team. Yes.



Long: Did they go ahead and win, anyway?



Washington: They won. They won the championship that year.



Long: Without the--?



Washington: Without all the practices and stuff. That they missed. Yeah. They did.



Long: Alright. Now, I guess what I want to go to now is if you had to, in retrospect, look back at what you did and how it was organized and what it accomplished, what would you think? What would you do different? Or would you do it?



Washington: First of all, thinking back, I was just amazed at the things that I found out about my own town, that I didn't know about. Like the Grenada dam had all these facilities up here, and we as black children knew nothing about it. Had a place to swim, but we were going over in mud holes. You know risking our lives swimming and doing different things, and you know, we shouldn't have been doing it. So, thinking back on all this stuff, I just think that we should have known more about our town. You know. But I'm glad that SCLC came through. I'm glad that God allowed them to come through. So, that was a great thing. It really was.

Long: Which church were you going to, then?



Washington: I was going to Powell[?] Chapel A.M.E. Church on Plum Street.



Long: And you're going to what church, now?



Washington: I'm going to New Life Christian Fellowship Church. Yes.



Long: OK. And the church where the meetings were being held was?



Washington: Bellflower A.M.E. Church. Yeah. Baptist church. Yes.



Long: OK. Now, did you ever see Dr. King when he came through?



Washington: I saw him once. Saw him at Bellflower Church. Yes.



Long: Tell me about your impression of--.



Washington: Not knowing him too much, you know. To me it was just a man. And then when I heard him speak, to me he was a great man. A great black man that didn't mind standing up and telling people, you know, what they should be about, and make you realize the things you been missing out on all your life. Yes.



Long: So, can you tell me, was that at the beginning in sixty-six that you saw him or was that later on before he was--? He came--.



Washington: That was later on that I saw him. That was probably in sixty-seven that I saw him. Yes.



Long: OK. And anybody else with him that you heard preach or talk?



Washington: Other than Hosea and Cottonreader and Leon, had a man named Moe[?] Lester, and--.



Long: Big Lester?



Washington: Yeah. Big Moe Lester. (Laughter.) That was my partner, there. That was my partner. Big Moe Lester. I never will forget him. Yeah.



Long: Did he go to Parchman with your group?



Washington: Oh, Lester went to Parchman with us. That's why it sticks out so much. Just a man that would stand there and tell them, you know, what I'm not going to do. What we're not going to do, and just stand there flat-footed and let them know that he wasn't. In fact, Moe Lester, in that trip, was beat. He was beat, in the truck that we went to Parchman. Yes, he was beaten pretty bad. Yes.



Long: Inside the prison walls? Or, where did they get him? And by whom?



Washington: I believe before, you know, before we left going there, he was beaten because he was one of the leaders, per se. Yeah. They were always handled rougher than anyone else. Yes. And that was a way of discouraging the lesser ones as they thought. Yes. But you know, nobody stopped.



Long: Mm-hm. Mm-hm.



Washington: Nobody stopped.



Long: OK. So, back to that question. What would you have done differently? And, you said what you did.



Washington: Yes. Yes.



Long: How did things change? I can go from it from there and then go back to see, in retrospect.



Washington: Things changed tremendously. You had a community of black people, you know, together and seeking one goal. And this is something that I miss. I really do. After seeing our communities, now. I miss the togetherness, where you could call for a boycott of this whole town in a meeting. Maybe it wasn't but fifty people there in the whole town would get the word, and it would be a boycott on whatever store that we said. Just in a moment's time. And I miss that. Our community, that unity, of black people. Our communities need to get back to that, you know, camaraderie. They really do. Yes.



Long: And why do you think we eased away from it? And what happened?



Washington: We eased away from it thinking that we had arrived. You know. Because we could go, now. When my people came to town, before, if it was twenty of us, we had to go from house to house, you know, in your family, trying to find somewhere for everybody to sleep, because you couldn't get a motel room then. But now, we can get motel rooms. We can go in the restaurant; sit beside the white people. You know. Supposedly do everything they do. So, now we have arrived, and we can get comfortable, again. You know. New things that we can do.



Long: Did jobs change?



Washington: Jobs changed tremendously. Yes.



Long: What did they used to do, and what are they doing now?



Washington: On the jobs, you were doing the same jobs, you know, the same with different people, and you were paid less, much less than them. So, now, you know, the raises are not what they're supposed to be. You know, for the same position, but they are way better than they were. So, you know.



Long: Where are you working now?



Washington: I work at Binswanger Mirror. Yes.



Long: OK. Uh-huh. So, you're working in a production situation.



Washington: That's right. That's right.



Long: How long have you been there?



Washington: Thirteen years. Yeah.



Long: And what is your job?



Washington: My title is Glass Inspector. Mm-hm. Yes.



Long: You almost arrived, haven't you?



Washington: Oh, man! (Laughter.) Thinking back on the times, you know, from then to now. Oh, yeah. I have arrived, and hadn't arrived. (Laughter.) You know how that is. Yeah.



Long: Yeah. You say, "We've come a long way,--."



Washington: Long way.



Long: "But we've still got--?"



Washington: "Got a long way to go." (Laughter.) Yeah, we've got a long ways to go.



Long: Yeah. I know. But in terms of the salary then, versus the cost of living then and the salary now versus the cost of living now, it's about, what?



Washington: [Whew!] It was better then. You know.



Long: That's interesting.



Washington: Yeah, it was better, then, because the cost of living now is just out of sight. It really is.



Long: Mm-hm. And then finally, there were some people who witnessed the mule train. See, people get real confused when you say the Meredith march going to Jackson, turn around from Jackson coming back. [There was] a demonstration and so forth. And then after King's death, the mule train in eighty-eight, in seventy-eight, and sixties. We're talking about sixties. We're talking about sixty-six and sixty-eight. OK.



Washington: That's right. Sixty-six and sixty-eight, during the--. Yeah.



Long: Right. So, do you remember, also, the mule train?



Washington: No, I really don't.



Long: You don't remember it coming through here?



Washington: Yeah, I remember it coming through, but any of the details, I missed that. I really did. Yeah.



Long: OK. That's fine. In fact, that's in part I believe, why your testimony is so good because some of the people I interview, they confuse one thing with another. But yours is just crystal.



Washington: Yeah. No. I can't.



Long: It happened to you. You know when it happened. You know why it happened, and you know what has resulted from it. And I'm proud of you. This is a good interview. And finally, also, I'm wondering about the city itself, and the leadership in the city, now. During the time that there was unity in the community, when did you see some things changing in terms of how black folks work together for change. When did--.



Washington: To me, after SCLC left, after the movement stopped, and, like I said the people seemed to have things that they wanted that they used to didn't have; then, the people got at ease, again.



Long: Right. Who became the leaders, then? I don't have to know the names, but--.



Washington: Well, it's all right, because he's outspoken, and he's a good man. Jasper Neely was the head of the NAACP, and that was really our most vocal and outstanding black man in Grenada. And he still is. Yes.



Long: OK. And he heads the NAACP.



Washington: Yes.



Long: Right. And then, were there others were just steadfast throughout that period, that you can think of?



Washington: Yes. It was. Yes.



Long: OK. What about somebody--? Mr. Neely wasn't able to go to work with SCLC and go to jail, during that period of time. Can you think of anybody from that period who has been steady? That may have been young, then.



Washington: Yeah. The main people were some of the people that you have already interviewed, like Rosie Washington. She was always there. You know. Henry Peacock. A lot of the younger people because a lot of the older people had to work. Somebody had to keep the household going, so, you know, it was a lot of things they couldn't do. In order to, you know, make money. But the younger people. You know. Headstrong, anyway. You know. So, we had to do most of the footwork. Yeah.



Long: Y'all were foot-soldiers.



Washington: That's it. Yes.



Long: So, if you had to compare what hasn't been done with what has been done, in what area is that? Which is the weak area in Grenada in terms of changes you wanted to see?



Washington: Community development for black people. It's still not up to par. It's a long way off. You know. They throw up a few parks or playgrounds, that they call them, and throw a few things in there, but it's really nothing that brings us up to standard, for our kids. You know. We still don't have enough good things because we still can see places that the white people go, like the swimming pool they have from three to maybe twelve feet deep. The swimming pool they built for the black kids, per se, from three to five feet deep. You know. It's still just unequal, and you can see this, and that's why, you know, it makes me miss the days that the black people were together. You know. Yes.



Long: Mm-hm. And public funds constructed both pools?



Washington: Both pools. Yes. Public funds. Yes.



Long: What else can you think of?



Washington: Well, up until about a year ago, we had black people doing the same jobs working for the city and, you know, and not--. But they gave a little raise to everyone, you know. But the raises are still not equal, but the black people are making way more than they used to make, and that's attributed to the City Council. This is the body of people that determines really most of the good stuff or bad stuff that goes on in Grenada, and right now our city council, they have seven people other than the mayor. And it's now four blacks and three whites, and that's something that had never been. They always had the deciding vote, but now we have that deciding vote, and a few changes have been made. You know.



Long: What about the county? In the county itself?



Washington: In the county, it's really nothing in the way of development that has happened for black people like it should in the county. Everything that they do, or want to do, they have to come to town. Yes.



Long: OK. I see.



(End of tape one, side one. The interview continues on tape one, side two.)



Long: And then, look like they're building a whole lot out there near that highway. Tell me about this. Development's happening.



Washington: The development is happening, but it's real slow. It should have been a long way ahead of what it is, now, because, to me, living here all my life, I can see why it is. Because they're trying to take this part of town forward and, say, where I live, they're trying to leave this part of town behind. And they don't realize that you can't go forward, pushing one part off. All of it's got to go together. You know. Or it won't work. And, you know. They have a hard time seeing that. Yes.



Long: Have you seen a change in politics in the state of Mississippi, also? Since you've been around. Now, for instance, your mother and father, when did they begin to vote?



Washington: My mother and father didn't begin to vote until I did, around sixty-seven. That was their first time voting. Yes. Sure was.



Long: Why weren't they able to vote before?



Washington: That is something that I never did talk to them about, but I know that some of the people, some of my aunts at that same age, had been discouraged from, you know, trying to vote. Yes. You know, this is something that black people didn't need to do.



Long: So, you think voting has added to the strength?



Washington: Aw, yes. Voting, it really has, because we're in a fight, now, over voting rights, and there are a number of black people in different wards. We have a fight going on, now, every year, they're trying to get a redistricting plan together, because it's too many blacks in different areas. And every time they run for City Council, they lose. So, they're trying to, you know, pool it together where it'll be more in their favor. And so far, the government has stopped that at every turn. Yes.



Long: OK. Let me look at what happened with your children. And you, were you able to go on and do some additional schooling, past high school?



Washington: No. I didn't go any further. High school was it.



Long: And then, you went into the work place?



Washington: Yes.



Long: Because you got a good job?



Washington: Yes. That's right.



Long: And you've been in one job for fourteen years?



Washington: This one, thirteen years. Yes. And I was in another job for fourteen years. Yes.



Long: Uh-huh. So, you were able to feed your family?



Washington: Yes.



Long: Who were your family? Who did you marry and what is the name of your children?



Washington: I married Lou Ellen Nicholson[?], and she was from a neighboring county, Carroll County. And she had a daughter when we married, Trina[?]. Her name is Trina Nicholson. And we, together had a son, Little Will II. Yes. That was him. Yes.



Long: Right. And he's in what year of school?



Washington: He's in the twelfth grade. Yes.



Long: What do you expect for him?



Washington: Ooh. So much. I want him to be sure. I want him to do better than I did. You know. To go further than I did. Yes.



Long: Yeah. But you did well.



Washington: I did well. Yes.



Long: And you did well in spite of! (Laughter.)



Washington: In spite of. That's true. That's true. You know. Just sometime, now, I just look back and just think about the things that we went through, and it's amazing. It really is. Just on this small-town scale. It's amazing. And I look at nationwide. You know. The thing that our people been through and going through. It is amazing.



Long: Yeah. But then, in terms of the attitudes towards our people, what? It's changed some, hasn't it? But tell me, what hasn't changed?



Washington: As far as what?



Long: Race relations.



Washington: Oh, OK. In Grenada?



Long: Uh-huh.



Washington: You still have, say, a bunch of people that were my age, at that time, and their parents had taught them about us. You know. What they should--. We still have a lot of those people in Grenada, and that's why we have a tug of war, now. That they feel like that, with the movement coming to Grenada, they were made to do certain things. You know. They didn't do it willingly. We made them give us our freedom, as they say. So, whenever they get a chance, you know, they try to take things back or stop us and keep things where they are. Yes.



Long: How do you know who that is, or who it isn't?



Washington: Just by keeping up with the workings of the town. Yeah. Keeping up with the workings of the city through the government. Like I say, our main governing party is the City Council, and I have two friends on the City Council. So, you know, I can keep up with the things that's going on.



Long: So, you know who's voting what way?



Washington: Oh, yes. Yes.



Long: So, there are some people who vote on the issues? Who vote for everybody?



Washington: That's right.



Long: But there are--.



Washington: The majority will go, you know, either black or white. Yes.



Long: An issue becomes a black issue or a white issue?



Washington: Every time.



Long: Isn't that something?



Washington: Anything that's, whether it's for the good of the city or not, everything turns into black and white. Black and white. No matter what happens, it always ends up black and white. Yeah.



Long: Did you see that beginning to happen when you were in the movement? Or did--?



Washington: That was my first time, you know, the first time that I noticed it. Yeah. In the movement. Yes. Also against them. Yes.



Long: The flag issue is a big issue in--.



Washington: Oh, yes. Yes. It is. We had a--. I read in the paper the other day where in Jackson at the state capital in the--I think it's a meeting room, some kind of meeting room--one of the black men there, one of the aldermen, I think, took the flag out and didn't put it back. So, they did vote to keep that flag out of there.



Long: Uh-huh.



Washington: You know, in this day and time, in the state capital, you had a black man that would say, "I'm tired of looking at this flag while I'm in a meeting." He snatched the flag down and wouldn't put it back. So, they had a vote on it, and they kept the flag out of their meeting. Out of that room. Yes.



Long: But, it was the wrong flag, anyway.



Washington: Wrong flag.



Long: It was the rebel flag.



Washington: Rebel flag.



Long: Right.



Washington: Rebel flag. Yes.



Long: We had that fight down in Biloxi. And a man went up the flagpole and pulled--. The first man I interviewed when I came to Mississippi, "Rip Daniels." He pulled down a Confederate [battle flag]. It was a battle flag. A rebel flag, like they used to have at Ole Miss. He pulled that down and threw it on the ground, and told them to put up the Confederate flag. That had flown over Mississippi. The other flag never flew. Well, they fighting, now, over that, like that flag was sacred or something.



Washington: That's right.



Long: It never flew!



Washington: And that amazes me, because that's nationwide. They're fighting over these flags. You know. Their flags. Their state flags, they say. You know. I mean, it's something.



Long: Well, anyway, I hope that we can be fighting for a better life for your child. And a better life for the children, even of--



Washington: To come.



Long: --your opponents.



Washington: Yeah. And, that's right.



Long: But, I appreciate this interview.



Washington: Thank you for coming by.



Long: And how highly it has depicted, especially, the struggle of a community to get the rights that were due them.



Washington: Yes.



Long: Now, who you know, out of that group, that went to service? Who ever went? Out of your group?



Washington: Dennis McClain[?].



Long: McClain went. He went to Parchman, too?



Washington: He went to Parchman. Alright. You had J.W. Kent[?]. He went. He had a brother that was killed in Vietnam. He sure did. You had James Seldon[?]. They called him Noony[?]. He was killed in Vietnam. I'm trying to think. It's several people. Several of my friends went to the Army. Yes.



Long: OK. And I guess, also, there is the--. If things started turning back, what would this community finally do, you think, now? If people started turning back the hands of time? Trying to re-enslave--?



Washington: Now, it would be a fight. It would be a violent fight. Yes.



Long: Because of the kids on the block?



Washington: Because--. Oh, the kids on the block, you can't do anything with them in your own neighborhood. So, talking about going back into picking cotton, and stuff like that? It would be a violent fight. It really would. And the people, you know, in my age range, it would be violent. It really would. Because we have been there. We know our people are not going back there. So, yeah, it would be. I hate to say it, but it would be.



Long: Yeah, my analogy was the back of the bus. If they tried to put you back in the back--?



Washington: Oh, yes. No. No. You couldn't. No. Couldn't go back. At all. Yes.



Long: Yeah. Of course, you could walk back to sniff some crack?



Washington: Oh, yeah. You know. They don't mind that. (Laughter.) Uh-huh.



Long: Go to the back (inaudible)?



Washington: Yeah. I tell you.



Long: What will be the solution to some of these major problems of our youth? Your son seems to be well.



Washington: Yeah. He's well-adjusted, and well-mannered. People are always telling me that. That's because of my involvement in the movement. You know. Knowing where I came from and staying focused on where I want to go for my family and myself. But a lot of the kids that are around, now, their parents wasn't involved in the movement. A lot of them. Because a lot of the people that were involved in the movement has moved. Since moved to, you know, North or California or different places. I know most of my friends moved because of the job situation. So, a lot of them really don't know anything about, you know, the hard struggles that we have had. And they don't want to hear it. You know.



Long: Now, finally, your father and your mother wanted you to do better than they did.



Washington: That's right.



Long: And you were saying your son, you want him--.



Washington: To do much better than me. Yes.



Long: Uh-huh. Which of your parents are still alive?



Washington: Both of them have passed. Both of them are dead. Yes.



Long: Uh-huh. So, do you feel that part of the gift that you gave them, that they saw the result of your work and of their work, during the time that they were alive?



Washington: Yes. Yes.



Long: What would they say, now, if they saw you right now?



Washington: They are proud of me. Yes.



Long: I am, too.



Washington: They're proud of me.



Long: I am, too.



Washington: Thank you. Thank you very much. I appreciate you coming by and taking the time. Yes.



Long: Yeah. I appreciate it.



(End of the interview.)

 
 

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