An Oral History

With

Charles Lemuel Young Sr.

Interviewer: Donald Paul Williams

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.

1998

Biography

Mississippi Representative Charles Lemuel Young was born on August 27, 1931, in Meridian, Mississippi, Lauderdale County. His parents were E.F. Young, Jr., and Velma E. Beal Young. He was the second of three children born to this union.

Charles attended school in the public school system of Meridian. He was graduated from high school in 1947 and attended his freshman year of higher education at Wiley College in Marshall, Texas. He then transferred to Tennessee State University in Nashville, Tennessee, where he earned a B.S. degree in Business Administration.

After finishing school, he was drafted and served in the U.S. Army where he received the Bronze Star and other medals of honor for his service in the Korean Conflict. After being honorably discharged from the Army, he returned home to assist in the family business where he worked and became extensively involved in the civil rights movement.

He was the first African-American to join the Chamber of Commerce and to break many other barriers in the community. He was appointed to serve on the first Board of Corrections in the state of Mississippi and was elected to the House of Representatives in 1980. He currently chairs the Universities and Colleges Committee. He is a member of Newell Chapel Church. He has received many community, state, and national awards. He has been recognized as one of Mississippi's outstanding businessmen. He is very active with the youth in the community and sponsors a tennis camp for over 100 children each year.

 

Table of Contents


Family's business 1

Bronze Star in Korean Conflict 2

Harris High School in Meridian 3

Wiley College in Marshall, Texas 3

Tennessee A and I University 3

Election and seating in Mississippi House of Representatives 4

Universities and Colleges Committee chair 4

Governor's State University in Illinois 5

Committee membership 5

Church affiliation 5

Newell Chapel and MAP Head Start meeting 6

Integration versus absorption 7

Registration to vote and poll tax 7

Holbrook Benevolent Association 7

The Weekly Echo 8

Public buses 8

NAACP in Meridian 10

Mississippi Democratic Conference 11

Freedom Riders 11

COFO 12

Freedom Schools 13

Contributions of churches 14

Picketing 14

NAACP Youth League 16

Medgar Evers 17

Assassination 18

Hubert Humphrey 19

Freedom Democratic Party 19

Committee of Concern 20

Voting 23



ORAL HISTORY

with

CHARLES L. YOUNG SR.

This is an interview for the Civil Rights Documentation Project. The interview is with Mississippi State Representative Charles L. Young and is taking place on November 14, 1998, in Jackson. The interviewer is Don Williams.

WILLIAMS: Are you ready for me to ask you some questions?

YOUNG: Oh, yes. Whatever you need to ask me, ask me.

WILLIAMS: All right. Mr. Young, my understanding is that you're the president of a company?

YOUNG: Yes, I am.

WILLIAMS: What does your company do?

YOUNG: We manufacture hair care products. We are the oldest manufacturers of ethnic hair care products in the world.

WILLIAMS: Is that correct?

YOUNG: That is correct.

WILLIAMS: OK. So, the Johnson people in Chicago, did you know them?

YOUNG: Yes, we did. But we are a much older company than Johnson was. We are the oldest black hair care manufacturer in the world, right now, since Madam Walker is not marketing their product anymore. Our company was started in 1931, by my father, E.F. Young, Jr., and we have been in existence ever since. And that is family-owned business.

WILLIAMS: Do you market the stuff all over the world?

YOUNG: Well, I can't say we market all over the world, no. We have a small niche in the world. We are not the largest black hair care manufacturers. We try to make sure that we stay afloat and pay our bills and live, but we don't have the largest volume. And that is because we haven't ever marketed for the largest volume. In those areas where we market, we command a pretty good share of the market.

WILLIAMS: OK. Let me ask you some other questions. You know, I had faxed you the pre-interview questionnaire.

YOUNG: Yes, I didn't bring it with me. So you can go down it and I'll try to answer.

WILLIAMS: OK, great.

(A segment discussing scheduling of the interview is not included in this typed transcript.)

WILLIAMS: And where were you born?

YOUNG: I was born in Meridian. Lauderdale County, Mississippi.

WILLIAMS: And when were you born?

YOUNG: August 27, 1931.

WILLIAMS: So, you were too young to be in the army during the Second World War?

YOUNG: Yes. I didn't make the Second World War. I was drafted for the Korean Conflict.

WILLIAMS: OK. You did go to Korea.

YOUNG: Yes. And while I was in the Korean Conflict, I was awarded a Bronze Star Medal.

WILLIAMS: What was your rank in the army?

YOUNG: I was sergeant, first class, when I got out.

WILLIAMS: So, you spent from what year to what year in the military?

YOUNG: I went in the military from 1952 to 1954.

WILLIAMS: And you made sergeant, first class in two years?

YOUNG: I made it in less than two years.

WILLIAMS: Well, that's pretty good.

YOUNG: Yes. When I got out of basic training, they tried to talk me into going to OCS school, but my father had passed, and my mother was operating the business and so I had a need to get back, so therefore I took the two-year hitch and I went in. After I got out of basic, I went to supply school. And, in going to supply school, after graduating in the top part of my class, they shipped me straight to Korea.

WILLIAMS: OK. Where did you take basic training?

YOUNG: Fort Jackson, South Carolina.

WILLIAMS: And then you went to supply school at--

YOUNG: Fort Jackson. And then I went to Korea, and I went to Second Division Artillery Unit which was an on-line unit. They stayed on the line at all times and I went there. The supply sergeant was a very nice gentleman and he was ready to try to come back to the states. So, by me having a background in accounting which was my under-major, I took up business administration in college, and with an emphasis on accounting.

WILLIAMS: What school did you attend?

YOUNG: Tennessee A and I University. They had a great Mississippian there who was the president when I was there, Dr. Davis. Dr. Walter Davis.

WILLIAMS: OK. Now what high school did you attend?

YOUNG: T.J. Harris High School in Meridian.

WILLIAMS: T.J. Harris. And that certainly was an all-black school.

YOUNG: Yes, it was.

WILLIAMS: When did you graduate from T.J.?

YOUNG: In 1947. And then I went to Wiley College [?] my freshman year.

WILLIAMS: And that's over in Texas, isn't it?

YOUNG: That's in Marshall, Texas.

WILLIAMS: So, how far did you go? Did you obtain a degree?

YOUNG: Yes, I did. I got my B.S. degree from Tennessee State.

WILLIAMS: Tennessee State. In accounting?

YOUNG: In business administration. They didn't have a degree for accounting. You could take it with an emphasis in accounting.

WILLIAMS: OK. Now, let me try to get back into just a little bit more about what we are trying to do. We are trying to get information, oral history on what had transpired in the civil rights movement across the state. And we want to take the data and put it in the Oral History Department at USM and also at Tougaloo College in the Archives so that we can have those documents available for scholarly research and for students, or for historical purposes and things like that.

How long have you been a state representative?

YOUNG: My election took place in 1979. I was seated in January, 1980.

WILLIAMS: What district is that?

YOUNG: I'm in the eighty-second district.

WILLIAMS: And that covers?

YOUNG: The biggest portion of Meridian.

WILLIAMS: OK. Does it overlap into other counties as well?

YOUNG: No. Just a little bit of it goes outside of the city of Meridian, but not very much. Most of mine is inside the city of Meridian.

WILLIAMS: So, ever since 1982, you have been--

YOUNG: Ever since 1980. I was elected in 1979. I had one opponent in 1979 and I haven't had any--

WILLIAMS: You haven't seen any since?

YOUNG: Not since.

WILLIAMS: OK. (laughter) And, what committees are you on and chair?

YOUNG: Right now I chair one of the major committees, which is Universities and Colleges. We are responsible for seeing to it that all of our universities and colleges are properly addressed in the state. We work very closely with our Appropriations Committee on making sure that the funding is there. We handle all of the bonding with the Ways and Means Committee, as far as our universities and colleges are concerned.

WILLIAMS: You know Tom Lazell?

YOUNG: Yes, I know him very well.

WILLIAMS: I went to Governor's State University in Illinois and he was the Director of Administration when I was there.

YOUNG: Is that right?

WILLIAMS: Yes. And I had the opportunity to talk with him at least once. I am going to get back in touch with him, but I was one of the student activists at Governor's State when he was at Illinois.

YOUNG: Yes. Well, I serve as chairman of that committee. And then, I am on the Ways and Means Committee, on the Banks and Banking Committee.

WILLIAMS: On the Ways and Means, who is the chairman?

YOUNG: Charlie Williams.

WILLIAMS: OK. Charlie Williams.

YOUNG: On the Transportation Committee, on the Fees and Salaries Committee. How many is that?

WILLIAMS: That's five.

YOUNG: Yes, that's it.

WILLIAMS: During the '50s and '70s, what churches did you attend?

YOUNG: I'm a Methodist. I am what you call a C.M.E. In the olden days, it was known as the Colored Methodist Episcopal Church. Later on, after we started the desegregation movement, it changed its name from the Colored Methodist Episcopal Church to the Christian Methodist Episcopal Church.

WILLIAMS: And, when did that change come about? What year?

YOUNG: I don't remember the exact year. I would have to look in the archives of the church history to get that date. But it was either in the latter '50s or the early '60s.

WILLIAMS: OK. Now what particular church did you attend, that you were a member of?

YOUNG: Newell Chapel C.M.E. Church.

WILLIAMS: Newell?

YOUNG: N-E-W-E-L-L.

WILLIAMS: OK. Now that was an all-black church?

YOUNG: Oh yes. Oh yes. There was no such thing as a mixed church. In fact, you find very few churches mixed today.

WILLIAMS: OK. Was Newell involved at all in the civil rights movement?

YOUNG: Oh yes. Firebombs were thrown on Newell Chapel on several different occasions. To show you the involvement, Newell Chapel was the first place that MAP held a Head Start meeting.

WILLIAMS: OK. That's Mississippi Action for Progress, right?

YOUNG: Right. That's where we just left from.

WILLIAMS: OK. And you are the vice-chairman of the MAP Board?

YOUNG: I am the vice-chairman of the MAP Board, yes. The chairman has been ill for the past four or five years and has not been able to come to the meeting, and we decided that we would not remove him as chair because of the work that he had done in the past.

WILLIAMS: OK. Who was the pastor of Newell Chapel?

YOUNG: Now?

WILLIAMS: During the '50s, and '60s, and '70s.

YOUNG: Well, we had several different pastors. We are a Methodist Church, so we would go and come. Let me think of some of them. Reverend Charles Jones was pastor. Reverend V.T. Thompson was pastor. Roland, what was Roland's last name?

WILLIAMS: We can come back to it. What were some of the other things that they did as it related to the civil rights movement?

YOUNG: Who the church?

WILLIAMS: Yes.

YOUNG: The church was very active in holding the meetings there and it was very active in guidance of the voter registration project. It was very active in the desegregation of a lot of activities. Well, and let me explain one thing, now. I don't like to refer to the term of integration because I have not seen integration take place. I have seen absorption take place, but I haven't seen integration take place. By my definition, when I look at integration, I look at something where two or more parties come together and comingle and join together in activities for the good and common cause of all involved. I haven't seen that take place.

I have seen that we have been absorbed into another economical society and have left ours by the wayside. What I am referring to: when I was a young boy and would come to Jackson, I would go to Farish Street to get the best meals in town. When I come to Jackson now, I go to Dennery's or the Walthall Hotel or the University Club or Steak and Ale or somewhere like that. And, none of these are basically owned or operated by people of color. Back in the olden days, we were forced to go to places like Shepherd's [?] and other restaurants. Edward Lee and them's place of business there at the hotel. If you wanted to get some good food. So, when we look back over the rim of what we have done, we have melted into a society, but we haven't kept any identity in the economic field.

WILLIAMS: Yes. Well, let me ask you this. When did you first register to vote?

YOUNG: I first registered to vote back in the '50s. And, at that time, we had to pay poll tax which was a $2 taxation for every year, and you had to have two poll tax receipts before you could vote. Fortunately, my father and grandfather were pioneers in the arena of rights of people over in our area. And, I was a registered voter.

WILLIAMS: Now, your father, can you tell us some of the things that he did in terms of advocating black independence? Certainly, he had a successful business. That says a great deal. So that automatically makes him a leader in the community.

YOUNG: Well, you go back into the history, my family saw the disadvantages that we had to overcome and they started an organization that was known as the Holbrook Benevolent Association. In short, they called it the HBA. And the HBA was a benevolent organization that pulled all black folks together for the common cause. At that time, in the early days, and I doubt that you are old enough to remember, [there were] two key things that we never had an opportunity [to get]: we never could get decent burials in those days. We never could get, hardly, any type of medical care.

If you went to the hospital, you were put in the basement where all of the crud and everything else was. Black doctors, the few that we did have, were not able to service the clientele. So, my parents, my grandfather, my uncle, my father, they pioneered this HBA organization, and it was very, very strong until, basically, we started to melt into the other society. And, they were very, very active in making sure that people in the HBA were encouraged to go out and advocate voter registration and join together on doing business ventures.

WILLIAMS: Just about what period of time was this?

YOUNG: I would say the HBA started back in the latter '20s or early 30s.

WILLIAMS: OK.

YOUNG: Yes. And they had a newspaper out called The Weekly Echo.

WILLIAMS: Do you know where I could get some documentation on that organization?

YOUNG: There is one lady that is still living, and I don't know what kind of condition she is in, but her name is Ms. Mattie Larkin.

WILLIAMS: Where does she live?

YOUNG: She lives in Meridian. And there is another man that lives in Meridian that maybe could give you some information on it and his name is John L. Smith.

WILLIAMS: OK. Let me ask you this. And I just want to go fast forward and get to, certainly, the Korean War. Well, let's start off with the Korean War. Now you were a young man, and you got drafted in the military. Now what was happening in Meridian at the time just before you got drafted?

YOUNG: Not very much. As I say, my grandfather and them had worked on things like the bus situation, you know, to make sure that even though we were confronted with having the signs in the buses at that time, their first steps were to get the signs to be a rotating sign. If you understand what I'm talking about.

WILLIAMS: Explain it to me.

YOUNG: What I mean by a rotating sign was that blacks had to go to the back of the bus, but if the back of the bus was filling up faster than the white [part] of the bus, then the sign would be moved up. You follow me?

WILLIAMS: Oh, I see. OK. Right..

YOUNG: So then, this meant that we didn't have to have people standing up with vacant seats up there, just because the sign said, "Whites." Their attitude was, let's let the signs be adaptable to whatever the need is. They couldn't remove the sign, but it did mean that we could slide the sign up, and we could rotate the sign.

WILLIAMS: So, how did you guys resolve that? Did you take any direct action or anything?

YOUNG: Well, no they did it through negotiation. My father and my grandfather and my uncle and them were very strong in the business side of the community, and they were able to go and sit down and talk with the leadership in the city to get certain things like that done. They never would have been able to have gotten the sign removed, you know. But they did get it whereas that it would slide up, you know. There was many other things like that that took place, you know, in the community. Meridian was not one of those towns where it was so hard-pressed until you couldn't have some dignity about yourself in that day and time. Don't get me wrong, you were always considered as a colored man out there, but there was a degree of respect that you could attain.

WILLIAMS: OK. Now, around the beginning of the '50s, what was the population of Meridian?

YOUNG: Meridian was the second largest city in the state at that time. And it was right at 50,000.

WILLIAMS: And, what percentage were African-Americans?

YOUNG: I would say that it was in the neighborhood of about 37 percent. Which it has maintained about that same percentage, now.

WILLIAMS: Is that so? Now, what form of government did they have back then? City government?

YOUNG: Meridian had a mixed. From year to year, it changed from a strong mayor form of government to a city council form of government and it had both. It wavered from time to time.

WILLIAMS: OK. When was the first time you had black city councilmen?

YOUNG: Oh, that was many years later. It was in the latter '70s or early '80s before that took place.

WILLIAMS: OK. What organizations do you think were important during the '50s, '60's, and '70s in Meridian?

YOUNG: I think the NAACP was very important. I think the church was very important.

(There is a brief interruption in the tape.)

WILLIAMS: --was an important organization?

YOUNG: That's right.

WILLIAMS: What about CORE?

YOUNG: CORE came on later on. In the earlier years, the organization that was the effective organization was the NAACP which was headed, in Meridian at that time, by a guy named C.R. Darden.

WILLIAMS: Is he still alive?

YOUNG: No. Oh, no. He's dead.

WILLIAMS: How do you spell his last name?

YOUNG: D-A-R-D-E-N.

WILLIAMS: C.R. Darden.

YOUNG: Yes. He was quite instrumental in a lot of the activities, in voter registration, and etc. Darden worked for a jewelry company, you know, that would sell class rings. And that was a highfalutin job in that day and time for a black man to have. And he was a photographer.

WILLIAMS: So, it was a white-owned company?

YOUNG: Oh yes. It was Joslin, I think the name of the company was.

WILLIAMS: He was the NAACP director?

YOUNG: Of the Meridian area, yes. In fact, for a while, he was state president.

WILLIAMS: How was he able to function in that particular role, given the kind of resistance that occurred in--

YOUNG: I think it was because his job was not local. He traveled from town to town, you know, calling on the schools, for their class rings and class pictures. So, I think that was the reason why he could do that.

WILLIAMS: So he would primarily sell rings to black schools.

YOUNG: Oh, yes. That's all. Please believe me, it was nothing that was crossing that line.

WILLIAMS: OK. I just want to go over some of the trials and tribulations in the area. I understand that the Klan was very strong in that area.

YOUNG: It was.

WILLIAMS: Can you tell me the most dramatic thing or the first thing that comes in your mind in terms of what black folks were trying to do and the reaction of white folks?

YOUNG: Well, again, you had to combat two things. When Darden and some of them were advocating, you know, integration, and breaking down some of the barriers, you know, some of the school teachers and etc. were not allowed to belong to the NAACP. If they joined the NAACP, then they lost their job. You know. So, it was those type of things I think that started the wheels to actually rolling there. So, it moved from that era on into the era of the '60s and that is when Aaron Henry, Charles Evers, myself, and a few more started making moves in the political arena. We viewed that if we were going to solve some of the problems that we were confronted with that we were going to have to harness some of the political power, and that is where it really started. The first meeting on putting the Mississippi Democratic Conference together was in Meridian. Because we knew we couldn't crack the party. And a fellow that was in the labor movement helped us at that time. A white guy by the name of Claude Ramsey.

WILLIAMS: Yes, Ramsey. I remember his name.

YOUNG: Yes. So that's where it really got started, and then we started making moves toward the Young Democrats and then we got into the era of when the Freedom Riders were coming down. Well, Meridian was the first town that the Freedom Riders hit, you know, when they came. I don't know whether you are familiar with the Freedom Riders or not?

WILLIAMS: Yes, sir.

YOUNG: Yes.

WILLIAMS: Tell me, what happened in Meridian in terms of the Freedom Riders?

YOUNG: Well, there was a group of us that met the Freedom Riders at the bus station.

WILLIAMS: What year was this?

YOUNG: I apologize. I don't keep up with those dates.

WILLIAMS: The first year of the Freedom Riders.

YOUNG: The first busload of the Freedom Riders, this is where they came to, was Meridian, and that was the stop. And Albert Jones, myself, and a guy named James Bishop met the Freedom Riders and we were able to convince the chief of police whom we had dealt with on many occasions--

WILLIAMS: And what was his name?

YOUNG: Roy Gunn. As you can tell, I can remember names better than I can dates.

WILLIAMS: Well, that's what I need to know because I can track down dates.

YOUNG: Yes. Roy Gunn was the chief of police. Roy Gunn was a segregationist. He didn't believe in the integration of the races or anything like that, but he was not a Klansman. He was not of that persuasion that he had to beat you up and kick you around. He'd rather sit at the table and fuss with you and curse you out and all like this, and then see how could you work together to get something done that both of you could live with. So Roy made sure that nobody really got hurt. We still had people there with confrontation and it was strictly because of the seating on the bus. You know. So, that was one of the incidents that took place. I am sure you know about several others that took place in Meridian with COFO. We were starting to integrate the lunch counters and things of that nature, and then we had SCLC to come in for a little while, but everything kind of centered around two organizations: and that was the NAACP and COFO.

WILLIAMS: Now, do you remember some of the folks in COFO that you worked with?

YOUNG: Yes. What was Joe's last name? I don't remember what Joe's last name was. You had a guy out of Louisiana. Oh what was his name? I'll think of his name in a minute. You had Ponder, Preston Ponder. I think Preston came out from around Hattiesburg. I don't know whether Preston is still living or not. Dave Dennis and them never did come to that area very much, but that is where it started. And you had another gentleman there that was very instrumental in a lot of activities in Meridian by the name of Reverend Charles Johnson. Reverend Johnson is the pastor of the Nazarene Church in Meridian.

WILLIAMS: Is he still there?

YOUNG: He is still living and still pastor of that church.

WILLIAMS: OK. I need to talk to him. I will definitely call him.

YOUNG: Yes. Reverend Charles Johnson.

WILLIAMS: In Meridian, you know, I had talked with--. I'm trying to think of the name of that dentist over there.

YOUNG: Hobert Kornegay?

WILLIAMS: Yes.

YOUNG: Dr. Kornegay?

WILLIAMS: Yes. Now did he--

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

WILLIAMS: --shot in his house several times. And, can you tell me, what kind of repression was going on in Meridian?

YOUNG: Well, I've had my house shot into over there. I still let the bullet holes stay up in mine, in my last house. Where, in my other house, my first house--

WILLIAMS: Can you tell me about what year that was?

YOUNG: That was about twenty-five years ago.

WILLIAMS: And what was happening at that time, that they came to attack you?

YOUNG: Well, I was fortunate during the movement because I was one of those persons that some of the Klan targeted, but some of the people that was associated with the Klan, as I say, would always somehow, when they were going to be shooting in some of our homes, we would always get the word, somehow. I had a man that was a newspaper reporter, and his name was Terry Keaton [?]. He is in Memphis now. A white reporter that was very sympathetic to our movement and he would always--. I shouldn't put it in writing because Terry might be still living.

But we had people that would let us know whose homes were going to basically be targeted. And we would get prepared for it. Now, we were not of the nature at that time, you know, the nonviolent movement. All of my neighbors, when we passed the word that I would be a target for that night, would be sitting up in their windows with their shotguns, and etc. But then when we went out and was marching and things of this nature, we stayed strictly with the nonviolent movement. It was incidents where churches, Lauderdale County, had more churches burned during the movement than any other county in the country. So there was a lot of underlying hostility that existed in that community.

WILLIAMS: Yes. Let me ask you, what kind of activities. Now you mentioned you had voter registration going on and that some of the churches were doing, I suppose, voter education. Did you guys have the Freedom Schools?

YOUNG: Yes. We did.

WILLIAMS: OK. And how did that operate and who was involved with that?

YOUNG: We had many people that was involved in the Freedom School. The Freedom School was operated by some of the leaders of COFO. Joe Moss, I think the guy's name was, was there. We had a lot of local people that was involved in the Freedom School. Polly Heidelberg was involved in the Freedom School. She's dead now. You had quite a few of our community. We had a very productive [Freedom School]. It was a young white girl there by the name of Gail that was very instrumental in the Freedom School. And a lot of the people that [traversed] from other areas to come into our local area. That is the place where they offered the most assistance, in the Freedom School.

WILLIAMS: Yes. Now you had people from formal organizations coming in, like COFO, but what local support, other than students?

YOUNG: Oh, the churches contributed to it, heavily. We had churches that would raise funds for it. We had churches that would prepare certain things for it. We had churches that put on book-gathering programs for the children to read, and etc. So that was not a one-sided thing. The activity was comprised of local people and people that came into the community. It wasn't just the people that was coming in. The thrust of it came from local people. Ms. Annabel Gathwright was one. C.R. Darden was another one. You know, it was just many people that supported it.

WILLIAMS: Yes. Now, let me ask you something. Now, in Jackson, you had Lanier, and the students from Brinkley. I mean it was just like young Turks just exploding and suddenly we had some leadership from teachers and from the cadre of the civil rights organizations. How did the young folks in Meridian, the high school students, participate in the civil rights activities?

YOUNG: Well, whenever we would have, especially mass meetings, as we would call them during those days, and things like that, we would get a lot of student participation. But on a day-to-day basis, unless it was something that was taking place after school hours, you didn't have nearly as much activity. Students were very strong in assisting us with picketing in the afternoon, and etc. But we strongly advocated that that child would stay in school and keep their education going as much as they possibly could do. We did not advocate them staying out of school. If they joined the NAACP, the principal in most cases would send them home, in the schools.

WILLIAMS: In other words, the principal, if they found out that they had membership in the organization, they would expel them from school.

YOUNG: Yes.

WILLIAMS: OK. Were the principals black?

YOUNG: Yes.

WILLIAMS: Because it was an all-black school? So, was this, in a sense, trying to control the kids?

YOUNG: That's right.

WILLIAMS: Were any of the teachers active, or--

YOUNG: Very few. If they became active, or too active, they would lose their jobs.

WILLIAMS: They were fired?

YOUNG: Yes.

WILLIAMS: Do you remember any teachers that were active, that might have gotten fired because of their activity?

YOUNG: I'd have to think back a bit on that, to get the names.

WILLIAMS: When you said that students would participate in picketing, what kind of direct activities were you doing? When you say picketing, what were you picketing?

YOUNG: We were picketing, basically, places for employment. And frontline employment.

WILLIAMS: OK. Was this central downtown? Or was it just all over?

YOUNG: It depended on which store. Reverend Charles Johnson was primarily the leader in the picketing program, and it would just depend on--

(Doorbell rings. There is a brief interruption in the tape.)

WILLIAMS: You mentioned that the young folks were picketing. So, who would organize the young folks and how would you assemble them. How would notify them?

YOUNG: Preston Ponder was a very good organizer and there was a boy from New Orleans, [Matt Suarez,] who was a very good organizer and Joe Moss was a very good organizer. We had some pretty good organizers in our community. Yes. And C.R. Darden had been working with children for a long time in the youth branch of the NAACP, you know. So that made a lot of things a whole lot easier.

WILLIAMS: Can you give me one specific direct-action picketing that you did. You mentioned something about--

YOUNG: Oh, yes. We had picketed the grocery stores at that time. There was a chain of grocery stores in Meridian called the Help Yourself Stores. We picketed the Woolworth's Store. We picketed the Cinderella Store, you know. It was just all over. As I say, Charles Johnson did a lot of that.

WILLIAMS: Now, what kind of reaction did you get from the authorities as a result?

YOUNG: Oh, there were some arrests made, yes. Roy Gunn did not appreciate it. You know, he didn't like it, but Roy was one of those policemen that, if the law said that you had a right to do it, as long as you stayed within this certain boundary, he was going to make sure you stayed within those boundaries, and he wasn't going to like what you was doing, but he was going to kind of stick with the law. He was going to try to talk you out of it.

WILLIAMS: You said that the Freedom Riders would come through Meridian. I guess you had a Greyhound Bus terminal there?

YOUNG: We had a Trailways Bus terminal. That's where they went to.

WILLIAMS: Can you explain what happened, you know, the first time that that occurred?

YOUNG: You know, the Freedom Riders was only a one-trip venture. And, they came in and they sat at the lunch counter, integrated there, and we were able to convince Roy Gunn, the chief of police that the cheapest thing to do was to let them eat and then, rather than locking them all up for violating the law of Mississippi, that it might be best if we would let them eat. Just let them have their freedom. Albert Jones was the leader in that group at that time, and he was very influential on getting things done of that nature.

WILLIAMS: What organization was he in?

YOUNG: NAACP. Albert was a strong NAACP man. He was chairman of the Legal Redress Committee.

WILLIAMS: OK. Now, there were a number of things, like the three, Chaney--

YOUNG: Goodman, and Schwerner. That came on, later on.

WILLIAMS: Medgar. Now I understand that he had the NAACP Youth Organization or Youth League? Is that what they called it?

YOUNG: The Youth League.

WILLIAMS: OK. I understand that they were active in Meridian.

YOUNG: The young people, yes.

WILLIAMS: OK Can you tell me a little bit about that? How that was organized?

YOUNG: That was organized primarily by C.R. Darden. That's what I was saying a few minutes ago. He had his youth department of the NAACP and he had his children involved in it, and etc., you know. And it was very strong and very effective. It helped to get a lot of people registered to vote. It helped to pave the way for a lot of teachers to be able to start keeping their jobs because the children would go out and they would flash their NAACP cards, you know, at school, and things of this nature. So it was quite active and very strong.

WILLIAMS: Did you ever meet Medgar?

YOUNG: Oh, yes. I worked with Medgar.

WILLIAMS: OK. Tell me, what is your impression about Medgar?

YOUNG: Oh, Medgar was a very, very dedicated person. You know, he came from the Delta, from around the Mound Bayou area, up there. Their original home was over not too far from Meridian, in Decatur. So, we worked very, very close together on voter registration. Medgar had come over and given speeches in our community; come over and worked with people trying to get their rights and protect their rights in the school system. He was very effective and very easy to work with.

WILLIAMS: Did you know Charles Evers back during the '50s.

YOUNG: Yes. I really got to know Charles more when he came back from Chicago. My father and uncle and Medgar were pretty close together. And Aaron would come in every now and then. Charles came in with a more aggressive attitude than Medgar had there, so it kind of fitted the style of younger people with that aggressiveness and Charles was a little bit more abrasive than Medgar. Charles would speak up. Charles had always been an independent thinker, whether you agreed with him or not. He had been basically an independent thinker. So, Charles and I worked together for many years, when I was the person that would put a lot of the strategy together for the political activities. And Charles and Aaron would be basically the executors, you know.

WILLIAMS: Are you talking about running people for office?

YOUNG: And then, just talking about the Democratic party and the strategy that we were going to use and how we were going to get certain things accomplished in the party, you know. We had to circumvent the party because we couldn't get the Democratic party because the whites already had that locked up and when we was getting ready to go to New Jersey to try to win some seats on the Democratic party. It was very difficult to do. But then we had to come back and we used the strategy of operating through the Young Dems to start getting an inroad into the Democratic Party.

WILLIAMS: Now, was that a mixed group?

YOUNG: Yes, it was. That group came out of a mixture of a man that used to be in the newspaper business here by the name of Hodding Carter. Hodding Carter was one of the leading newspaper[men] in the Delta.

WILLIAMS: This is a white fellow?

YOUNG: Yes. Out of Greenville. Very historical family, as far as black rights and human rights were concerned. Hodding is a big-time publisher now. But Hodding Carter, Pat Derian and several others were very instrumental in working with that group of the Young Dems. You had Vardis Induall [?] and Wilky. What is his name? He was a newspaper reporter for the Boston Globe. What is Wilky's first name? I can't remember his first name. [Curtis Wilky]

WILLIAMS: Well, I'll find out. Do you remember when Medgar got assassinated?

YOUNG: Yes.

WILLIAMS: Can you tell me, what was the general emotion or feeling in Meridian?

YOUNG: I think that it was one of the most earth-shaking things that has happened as far as black folks are concerned in this state. I think that they became more angry at the death of Medgar than at any other point that I have seen black folks being angry with. We were very disturbed because Medgar was such a mild individual. He was never abrasive. He was different from Charles. Charles would rear back up and blow and huff and puff. Medgar was not of that nature. So, therefore, it took a different turn in the minds of black folks, what happened with [Medgar,] there. So it was something that reached every community, even those people who might have been afraid to speak out found ways of funneling their thoughts and their dollars into the NAACP because of Medgar.

WILLIAMS: Now, did you hold any office in the NAACP at the time?

YOUNG: On the local level, I did. I didn't hold any office under Medgar. I did under Aaron.

WILLIAMS: Now, Aaron Henry was the statewide?

YOUNG: Yes. At first, C.R. Darden was the president, statewide. And he worked with Medgar. Then Aaron ran against Darden for the state presidency and he unseated Darden for the state president, and Medgar was the field secretary.

WILLIAMS: Right. And, Meridian had its own branch of the NAACP?

YOUNG: Yes. Meridian had its own branch. My uncle started the branch of the NAACP in 1931.

WILLIAMS: OK. And what was your uncle's name?

YOUNG: Bishop Roy L. Young.

WILLIAMS: OK. Now you mentioned Atlantic City? Can you tell me just a little bit about Atlantic City?

YOUNG: I didn't go to Atlantic City. I, unfortunately, had a mishap to happen in our little business, and I couldn't go to Atlantic City. Aaron went. Darden went. Fannie Lou went. And several others of the delegation. Guyot. I think Frank Parker went, too.

WILLIAMS: Guyot, was he with SCLC?

YOUNG: Yes. Lawrence Guyot. But I know what took place in Atlantic City. Hubert Humphrey was very instrumental with them at that time in trying to do what they wanted to do and a big clash came between Aaron and Hubert Humphrey, and they finally got it worked out, because Hubert was trying to get us to take a few seats with the whites and Aaron just didn't feel that was a comfortable position. He felt like they needed to move on out of the way and let a truly Democratic party be put together.

WILLIAMS: OK. Now Freedom Democratic Party. What impact did it have in the Meridian area?

YOUNG: The Freedom Democratic Party had an impact all over the state of Mississippi. Because it was organized and even though some of the leaders might have clashed with some of the leaders of the NAACP, it wasn't to the extent that it was a terminal type relationship, if you understand what I am talking about. It was a relationship whereas they were for some of the same things even though they might not have wanted some of the same leadership positions to be filled like they were filled. But the Freedom Democratic Party was very effective and it played a role, especially with the statewide mock election that it had. When Aaron ran for governor and Reverend King at Tougaloo--

WILLIAMS: Ed King.

YOUNG: Ed King ran for lieutenant governor.

WILLIAMS: In the Meridian area, I know that Jackson just got your school superintendent from Meridian and brought him down here. I want to look at the local politics. When did politics and the input of black people making inroads into the political offices of Meridian, when did that occur?

YOUNG: Well, that started when we had the mock election.

WILLIAMS: Which was what year?

YOUNG: I'd have to look it up.

WILLIAMS: OK. I'll find it. I should know all that stuff, since I am the interviewer. I should know all the dates. (laughter) I am going to get all that together.

YOUNG: You can look up the dates and it will give you the mock election. Robert Clark is pretty good on dates.

WILLIAMS: I've got all the documents. I have read, I don't know, maybe a thousand pages over the last month or so about dates and statistics and stuff. I'll get that together. But, can you tell me the transition and when black people began to get power? And some of the problems that you had in terms of resistance?

YOUNG: Well, I think some of the problems were, number one: I'd say the biggest problem was the educational process that we had to go through to get black folks to understand that this was for real. That we could elect black folks to office, and I think that when we started putting it together, it goes back to how we really got to that point, because it started off with blacks seeing other blacks in positions that we had never held before. Like seeing a black policeman in a uniform. Kornegay was one of the keys in helping train black policemen. His office was the place where we took the prospective black policemen and taught them how to take the Civil Service Exam.

And I think once people saw these type things taking place, then it starting dawning in their subconscious minds that it could be a reality. And that would mean that people could win slots. And then when we started fielding candidates, it gave black people a reason to get out to vote. And the first thing we had to do was to make sure that we did have a potential of winning a particular office and then the next thing about it, we had to put it on a program that would turn out the vote.

WILLIAMS: Now, what kind of intimidation or backlash [occurred], because black folks are getting more involved politically? Was there any Klan activity?

YOUNG: There was always Klan activity going on, but Meridian played a little different role. Like on public schools. You had a Committee of Concern, which was a committee of quite a few whites and blacks in the area that said that inasmuch as the law said that this is what it's going to do, we might not like it, but we are going to go about it in basically a peaceful type of way. You know, we had the renegades to go out and burn down my church parsonage over there, Newell Chapel. But it didn't do anything but cause the community to rally together. When we got through raising money, where we had had an old, broken down, wooden parsonage over there, that we couldn't even repair, and didn't have money to build a new one, when the Klan burned it down, the community rallied, black and white, to the extent that we were able to build a brand new brick, three-bedroom, air-conditioned parsonage. The school situation was the same way.

You had a man here in Jackson, I don't know whether he is still in Jackson now or not, that was very instrumental in doing that. A guy by the name of Duncan Gray. Duncan Gray is a bishop in the Episcopal Church. I don't know whether you've ever heard of him or not. Duncan was the director at the Episcopal church right across the street from the governor's mansion for quite some time. Duncan was one of the chief persons in assisting James Meredith when he was going to Ole Miss. Duncan was transferred from Oxford up there to Meridian and this type of activity followed with him. He organized a group called the Committee of Concern, to help with those issues, and therefore, we were able to get over some of the barriers.

Several members of his church decided they didn't want him to be their pastor anymore, so he told him that he would assist them in transferring their membership to one of the other Episcopal churches if they wanted to, but he had to take this particular road. You know, that this was something that he had to do. So that helped us out a whole lot as far as making sure that even though they didn't like it, but it was not a big violent threat.

WILLIAMS: In Jackson, and also, in the Delta, if somebody's kid or somebody belongs to the NAACP, they would publish their names. Was that very widespread in Meridian?

YOUNG: Yes, it wasn't any question about that, but again, you know, that is something that a lot of people didn't mind doing. But then on the other hand, a lot of school teachers would reject that and they would always get their membership cards in an anonymous name.

WILLIAMS: OK. Now, is there anything that really galvanized Meridian? Is there any one particular incident or series of incidents that occurred in Meridian that stands out in your mind?

YOUNG: Well, I think the Chaney, Goodman, and Schwerner situation did a lot for it. I think black elected officials around Meridian have, and I guess I'm not trying to toot my own horn when I say this, but I think it is often something more than emotions. As you well know, a lot of elected officials thrive off of just the emotional type things that they can create. I think that a lot, including Kornegay, Jim Smith, Reverend Brown, Coleman, Jesse Palmer, Q.V. Sykes, you know, I think that they have advocated more than emotions. And I think this has been one of the strongholds that have helped Meridian.

WILLIAMS: OK. So you have a good, solid leadership base.

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

WILLIAMS: [Another question] I wanted to ask you was, you know, you are the chairman of the Universities and Colleges Committee. Is that the correct term?

YOUNG: That's correct.

WILLIAMS: I think that is a significant accomplishment given that we had a segregated school system, and couldn't go to Ole Miss, couldn't go to Mississippi State, and all this, and you essentially oversee as a legislator the whole university system. Let me ask you, what do you think was accomplished out of the civil rights movement? Where are we now and where should we be going?

YOUNG: I think one of the things that was accomplished during the civil rights movement was the recognition of talent. You know, we for so long, have had expertise and the whereabouts going all the way back to Benjamin Banneker, George Washington Carver, Booker T. Washington, and W.E.B. DuBois, you know. We had the knowledge and ability to do, but was never allowed the opportunity. Even though that is still not 100 percent today, the exposure has given us the opportunity to show the world and to exhibit a lot of our talent. I also think that it helped set us back some, especially in the economic field, because nothing from the primary white community has ever drifted over to the black community.

It used to be, you got ready to build a house, the average carpenter out there was a black carpenter, a black bricklayer. You found that once the scale of dollars and cents got up to a certain level, we didn't maintain those positions anymore. I think that these are some of the gains. Educationwise, I think that it exposed us to a new type of educational culture, but it was a one-way street. It was blacks going to so-called white institutions. They have never decided that they needed to come over to the black institutions. So I think that it is a balance of up and down that has taken place here with these situations, and we've still got to overcome those type hurdles.

WILLIAMS: OK. You know, looking at Mississippi today, where do you think we are politically in terms of elected officials, in terms of participating in the democratic process as a result of the civil rights laws and the breaking down of the Jim Crow laws and those things.

YOUNG: I think God has given us an opportunity. And if we take advantage of that opportunity, I think we can make some very strong strides. If we don't take advantage of that opportunity, then I think that we will be cast to the side. That opportunity that we are talking about now really comes through the power of the vote. The power of the vote is very, very strong. When you look at some of the races that are across this nation that have taken place right here in November, I think you will see that a lot of credit is given to the black vote and the black turnout. I think this is the thing that we have got to do. We still didn't turn out strong enough. We should have been more of a silent turnout than a vocal turnout. If you go back and study the books of the state of Mississippi, more poor whites registered under the voting rights act than black folks did under the voting rights act. So, I think that we have got to make sure that we have a good turnout and that we actually participate and stay up-to-date on the issues that are confronting us on an intellectual basis rather than an emotional basis.

WILLIAMS: So do you think that there is any difference between black folks voting during the height of the civil rights struggle, registering and voting, for instance when the Freedom Democratic Party ran King and Aaron and Charles, and black folks voting over the last few years?

YOUNG: Well, voting is a very dull thing to do. It's not exciting. It's very simple. It's not consuming. It takes you less than two or three minutes to vote. The only gratification you can see in it is that you are favoring a candidate or getting behind a specific candidate. Other than that, to vote is just about emotionless. It doesn't strike a bell with you. It's not like the football team out there playing and a guy runs a split tackle or touchdown. You know, that you jump up and hurrah all about. So, I think that we have got to make sure that we have a reason to vote, and I think that during the early years, the reason was more outstanding than it is today. I think that people in that day who had never voted before and had never seen a black in office before were just gratified in doing that. When I ran for my election in 1979 and was sworn in, on the swearing-in day in January, I brought people over by the busloads to be there. All of them were there to just show me their appreciation and how proud they were that here I was a member of the House of Representatives of the state of Mississippi, one that had kept us even out of the capitol building before, one that had Bilbo's statue in the rotunda down there before, one that had promoted segregation to the extent that they wouldn't even let Robert Clark sit with [anybody] when he came here, you know. So this was a milestone. This was an historical thing.

WILLIAMS: Yes. You mentioned Robert Clark. He was the first elected, in 1967, was the first black representative since Reconstruction. So, when was the second black elected to the House?

YOUNG: I really don't know. I would have to look it up in the archives.

WILLIAMS: OK. But when you came in 1979--

YOUNG: Fred Banks was in there, Horace Buckley was there, Anderson was there, Clark was there.

WILLIAMS: It was a tough row to hoe when you guys went in. So, you struggled. You got there. So what was your impression of the state legislature?

YOUNG: Well, naturally, you would go in with a good feeling there, but you didn't have to be there very long before you would see what some of the obstacles were. It was quite prevalent, especially from two things: from the racial situation and the political situation. In the political arena, I guess just about like Newt Gingrich. I disagreed with the way that the Republicans in the House of Representatives threw Newt out, you know, just because he didn't call the election right. There's going to be many elections I'm not going to call right, you know. None of them expected the black turnout to be what it is but I don't think they should technically blame Newt for that, you know, for the black vote turning out like it did. So therefore it becomes a pretty cold issue with some people and they are ready to automatically kick out anything that didn't fit what they thought it should be.

WILLIAMS: Do you think the black caucus has been successful?

YOUNG: I think it has opened a lot of doors.

WILLIAMS: OK. How?

YOUNG: Well, I think it has opened a lot of doors, especially during the redistricting era. Redistricting of the state's voters was very, very important. I think one of the highlights of the caucus was its involvement in the redistricting of the state. The other thing I think it does is that it opens up a lot of opportunities for us to have good dialogue between other representatives and other states.

WILLIAMS: I think I'm just about through right now, and I want to thank you very much for taking the time and going over your experience and I think it is going to be beneficial for the young black folks. It has certainly been beneficial for me. And again, Tougaloo and the University of Southern Mississippi would like to thank you.

(End of the interview)

 
 

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