Hollis Watkins

Hollis Watkins


Material Information

Hollis Watkins
Physical Description:
Oral history interview
Hollis Watkins ( Interviewee )
Paul Ortiz ( Interviewer )
Publication Date:


Subjects / Keywords:
Oral history
Civil rights movements -- Mississippi -- History -- 20th century
African Americans -- Civil rights -- United States -- Songs and music
Temporal Coverage:
1950 - 1970
Spatial Coverage:
United States of America -- Mississippi -- Sunflower County


Scope and Content:
Activist Hollis Watkins discusses the important role music played in the Civil Rights Movement, as a tool to bond, motivate and inspire the participants. He also mentions Charles McLaurin. Locations include, McComb and Summit and Sunflower County, Mississippi.

Record Information

Source Institution:
UF Samuel Proctor Oral History Program
Holding Location:
UF Samuel Proctor Oral History Program
Rights Management:
All rights reserved by the submitter.
Resource Identifier:
spohp - MFP 005
System ID:

This item is only available as the following downloads:

Full Text


MFP 005 Interviewee: Ho llis Watkins Interviewer: Dr. Paul Ortiz Date of Interview: May 6, 2008 O: Okay. We are here with Mr. Hollis Watkins at the 2008 Sunflower County Civil Rights Reunion. Mr. Watkins, I want to start off by thanking you so much for agreeing to do the interview. Could you tell us why you are here today? W: My major purpose here t oday as part of the reunion is to share with the people here today background information on music as used as a part of the struggle, sing some of those, and talk about how those songs in the struggle was used and the major purpose for those songs being us my being here. O: Why was music so important in the M ovement? W: One of the reasons that music was so impo rtant was because music in the M ovement, as we saw it, could be used as a tool for bringing people together, of intro ducing yourselves to people and getting close to people, motivating people and inspiring people. When you look at Mississippi in particular, Mississippi is a state where religion is very, very prevalent, so people are used to singing songs. already familiar with rather than trying to introduce them to something new from one of the reasons that the music, the songs, were so important, is that people were used to singing in the different churches. So if you come doing that, then they can relate to you. Also, music is therapeutic. It is also a bonding device You can send me ssages through music. You can also


MFP 005; Watkins; Page 2 motivate and inspire through music. You can present different things in music music as it would be if you sat down in dialogue or if you gave a speech. Those are some of the reasons that music was so important. O: What was your musical background before the M ovement, or did you have a musical background? W: I grew up in Mississippi and S outhwest Mississippi not too far from McComb and Summ family was a family that sang. In addition to singing in the church, being a part of the church choir, my family itself had a group of its own, which at that time people called a quartet but it was more of us than four family members who sang so it church, being a part of the church, singing in the church, singing in the choir, also doing a little bit with my older brothers and father in the church. Naturally singing became a par t of me, and as I got into the M ovement, I analyzed the singing and realized how important it was as a tool to be able to reach and communicate with people. O: Now, you mentio n you analyzed the music, like when you were getting in. Did that mean that you were looking at, say, the lyrics ? How did you go about analyzing?


MFP 005; Watkins; Page 3 W: In some cases in analyzing music, I listened to the lyrics. In other cases, I just take note of the rhythm. I paid strict attention to how people joined in and really a b o nding piece in the church when people would sing songs that people were familiar with, 99 to 100 percent of e verybody in the church would be you can get 100 percent participation from, so this process. Also, when I looked at how the church se rvice took place, there was some singing going on before anybody began to talk. To me, that is saying to me that this is an attention getter. This is a bonding force that is taking place. This is getting people ready and prepared to receive a message comin g from someone. use that same approach in working with people in the community as a part of our O: Mr. Watkins, when you say music is a bonding force, do you mean that you saw the music as a way to get people to bond with each other in a way? W: Well, naturally, if something is going on and everybody is participating in it, that within i tself, that very act, creates connectivity, a co n nected ness to everybody moment. In most cases, we as human beings, if we can see or are shown how, t we can come together around other things. Maybe not to the same extent but at least a


MFP 005; Watkins; Page 4 certain percentage of us can and will come together, and maybe it will be at the same percentage level. But it, it creates that possibility there. The thing that I real ized and discovered is that when people get involved in singing, they throw your troubles, then for to listen, to try to get understanding and even more open and susceptible to the possibility of joining on and doin g something in relationship to what is being said that need to be done, then you would be if your mind is completely bogged somebody is saying to you because you are deali ng with your problems, that which is weighting you down. Singing is a way of getting people to shed off some of the weight that they carry. O: When you think back to the Movement years in the [19] 60s and in Mississippi, is there one event where you saw mus ic just transform people or one particular it could be more than one but just one experience that you just, that kind of stands out where music just kind of transformed everything? W: See, I saw that process happening back then. By me staying in Mississipp i continuing to work, I still use that process. I see it happen every day, you know, three specific events in terms of which that happened because, see, in my case,


MFP 005; Watkins; Page 5 you kn seven forty eight years of all of this. So way. O: Do you h ave a favorite song out of all of the songs that you sung or participated in? W: because to me, to me, the songs are kind of ready to do some carpentry work, you know, you want some hammers, some tools in reference to other th ings but not in reference to doing this carpentry work. So what I do is I look at and try to get an understanding of who the people songs that would be best. And if which in mos t cases I do that is one that is about bringing folks together and do a test to see how it works. and I want to do folks have some little favorite, but, you know, I just say all of them s my favorite. I


MFP 005; Watkins; Page 6 put all of them in my bag. I got them to be used at various points in time, O: What songs are you going to sing today? W: O: nd of wait to see, like, how W: You know, I need to you know, I want to look into the eyes and the faces of that. Because there have been times that I did that, and when I got there and looked into the eyes of the folks, et cetera, and who was there then, hey, look, hel ping talking about some historical stuff as it relates to music, the role it played in the M way back from some real historical stuff and come through. Sometime I do that, sometime I start in the middle, sometime I just deal with an end piece. It also depends on the amount of time and all of that. O: Yeah. W: he songs and how they were used need


MFP 005; Watkins; Page 7 ave understanding of the history of songs and how and in what manner they were used. So I try to set that up O: This question just occurred to me when I was listening to you talk. When you think about the 1950s, 1960s, were there any musicians or types of music that you think seemed to reflect this longing for freedom that might have had an impact, I mean, outside of the immediate M ovement? W: back to the [19]50s and [19] 6 there is, and here again, those of us that were deep into the religion and the church thing, you know, other than the spi were young, then you had to slip off and get involved in that. We stuck strictly to the religious. O: To the religious music. W: Uh huh. O: Yeah. Ho w did the M ovement change your life? W: How did the M ovement change my life? It probably prevented me from venturing off in money really talk about what change that would have been. But the M ovement enabled me to get closer to people and get a better understanding of people as to where


MFP 005; Watkins; Page 8 they were coming from, you know, why they did certain things and all of that. I think all in all, the M ovement helped to make me into a bett er person. But in M a great athlete, which I never became. You know, because I was growing up as a child and when I went to high school and even when I went to college, I was very fast. I was an excellent baseball player, you know, and a pretty good basketball player. I could, for example, relatively easy at that time we dealt with yards rather tha n meters, I could relatively easy do Unidentified female : Oh, hi! O: Unidentified female : Just finishing up? W: Unidentified female W: okay. Thank you. Unidentified female W: I could relativel y easy do the 100 yard dash in ten seconds. O: Are you serious? W: Yeah.


MFP 005; Watkins; Page 9 O: W: I understand that. I say I was pretty fast. My last three years in high school playing basketball, I had between an 18 and 22 point average. In baseball, I was three years. O: In three years? W: In three years. O: Wow. W: The three tim es I struck out were with the same person, nobody else other than with that person, twice in one year and once in one year. So in three years of playing baseball, I struck out three times. O: W: There were times when I came to the bat and t he pitcher would have to th row sometime anywhere between fifteen and twenty something pitches before our So had I not gotten into the M hose, and I probably could have even done something in terms of singing. Those were opportunities that was out there O: Yeah.


MFP 005; Watkins; Page 10 W: that went by the ways ide that being involved in the M ovement, you know, I could not look at and only was able to use my talen t in terms of singing to enhance a deal with the work that I was doing in the M really know. See, those are just possibilities. O: Of what might have been, yeah. W: Yeah, those were possibilities. O: Okay. W: And, you know, I don to pursue any and all of those. O: k you again for sitting down with me. W: Okay. O: [End of interview ] Final edited by: Diana Dombrowski, July 16, 2013