MFP 067 Interviewee: Bertha Marie Burres Intervie wers: Sarah Blanc and Khama Weatherspoon Date of Interview: September 24, 2010 BB: Got involved with SCLC in 1967, and they looking for somebody to take they notes from around here in their meetings, and I was good at taking notes because everybody that had organization here in Quitman County, I was their secretary so [Laughter] T hey had to meet on different nights in order for me to be able to take their not es. So I got interested in that. I came back home because I left my husband and these are my six children. They taken that picture without my permission and everything, and so the place. They are a t the museum in Memphis, and SB: I read about his exhibit, and I think they took it out to California. BB: Mm hm. We were on the Mule Train SB: Do you mind if we start, so I get all of you r information chronologically, and make us on the recorder. BB: Batesville then we were going south to 82, and then we went e ast. SB: So did you you knew Roland Freeman? BB: Oh yeah. He was the only one that stayed back well but he was the only one that was interested in my children and me, because I
MFP 067; Burres; Page 2 had all of my children on there, and my baby was just three years old, and the oldest one was nine, so. SB: And look BB: Yeah, look at them now. SB: Marna, do you want to look at this while we start? Oh, we did start, okay. Al l right gin. Good a fternoon, this is Sarah Blanc and Khama Weathersp oon, are in Marks, Mississippi with well why actually? BB: Bertha Marie Burres and at the time I had just come back home because I was separating from my husband, and we had been in Chicago for a while a couple situations as Bertha Johnson and Bertha Crawford and Bertha Lust me. So I prefer to use my maiden name, Burres. KW: Could you give us a bit of a background on your husband and children your parents and grandparents? BB: Well decided her and her husband decide d they would move to town, and they got the house that I was raised up in, and the people r edid the house and everything. An KW: And what was her name?
MFP 067; Burres; Page 3 BB: Alberta Moss. And her husband is B enjamin Moss. So my mother stayed across the street from her, at this angle. And my momma Momma and D addy house was on the corner of Third and Humphrey. So my daddy was a minister, and my mom, she worked for a little while, you know, like driving him when he was trying to get his start, stationary in Quitman County. It was just take the children to the churches where t hey had their classes at. W too many cl by, so she would haul the children there. So when I came in, I moved back home. My husband was in the service. He got in the service he says so we could get married. SB: And how did you m eet him? BB: At church. But that happened to be one of the bad ones [Laughter] KW: And where was this church? BB: Church of Christ. T he church is still up there on Anderson Street, but when I y was, you know, And then I got interested in C ivil R ights working and everything. A notes about what they were trying to do and get done in Quitman County, I wa s interested. So I took their notes and we had our meetings, and I was beginning to one way the other. So I got interested in being a worker, you know. So I did. And
MFP 067; Burres; Page 4 I liked it, you know, I liked what they were doing, what they were trying to do. and so I kept their reports and everything, and then when after Dr. King was assassinated w ell he cam e here first, and we got a chance to carry him around standing in streets Houses was broke down and so Mr. Signer c ame into town and he built houses that kind of widen out the city. A place of residence for the black people. The And we were over here farm. Yeah, and we picked cotton, chopped cotton, chopped beans, chopped the grass down, picked the cotton when Billy got in a lot of cotton pickers ; after they got all of the cotton picked, then we was out of a job. Oh yeah, we was out of a job. So we w and you can get into a lot of different stuff, and they not all good. So I began to notice that our young people, you know, going in the wrong direction. So they asked me to help get an organization started here, so I said o with me. B ut they wanted me to sit and interview older people to see what they wanted to learn, if they would be interested in learning, bettering themselves at certain things like math an d counting money and writing their names because all they were doing was writing a X So they learned. We got the program after me sitting down with about seventy five of them that told me what they would
MFP 067; Burres; Page 5 want to le arn if we got a school for us. I s what t hey were calling it, so yeah. So, we did that for four years, it was a four year experiment program. KW: And what did they want to what were some of the things they wanted to learn? BB: Learn how to write their name, learn how to count their money, learn how to get anything that was available for them to get l ike Social Security, Medicaid, m edicine, how to get a doctor, how to get food, and if there were anything they could get like Social Security. A nd they wanted to learn how to do that and how to go ab out doing it, because they said they know, they heard about it, but they was to go around and educate everybody on the program that we had in the county, and it was everybody tha t was in Quitman County. It was mostly based on the class, and then later, they wanted to educated the children, have something for the smaller children to do when the paren t did find some work to do, you know. T hey would also have a way to take care of their small children or get somebody to take care of them. SB: So how did you get the job taking notes for the Civil Rights Organization in town? BB: Because I was the secreta ry and I was volunteering, and I told them, I said they said, w I said, w me a little, I would, you know, be able to pay my utilities because my mom and dad paid my rent He told me to find a house and not to worry about the rent, but [Laughter] And I
MFP 067; Burres; Page 6 you know, a lot of time, a lot of noise, loud scre aming, and it happens some time, and they kind of, you know, set you off in another direction [Laughter] Y ou wish you had some earplugs to put in your ear, you know. SB: So when did you know there was a M ovement? When did you realize that something was h appening in Mississippi? BB: remember it. But anyway, it was four of them, I was secretary to all four of th em, somebody to take notes for them, so I took notes for them. Everybody said, l et her take them, she keep up with you, she can keep up, I said, no, a short hander! I got married too early. B ut I got up to the tenth grade. I completed the tenth grade before I left and started having children. I left here and went to California and I had four children out ther e And my husband left California, and he had to go overseas, so I had one child over there. A nd come back to Memphis after he did his tour over to in England, and I had my last baby there, my daughter. But before then, you know, I just go to each one of t heir meetings, and al l of their meetings was similar; guess that was the groups they had in this area, so they had just about the same people went to one went to all of them. And so they the one that recommend to SCLC that they use me as their secretary. And they said, w ell, you know, she
MFP 067; Burres; Page 7 might be busy when you all have a meeting, she might not be able to do the usy. Yeah, they say, o kay, that w looking for. So then when they came in, they wanted to work on the Mule Train T hat was the last thing that Dr. King had talked with them about before he got assassinated, and th ey had to put it together. He gave them a rough draft of what in between work like finding out how far it is from here to Batesville, how long it would take mules that was f used to walking on concrete, and so t hey had somebody to shoe them. T hey had a place to keep them over cross the railroad, over there. And this teacher on this side of the railroad on that first stre et over there, he had a place. H e had some land where he could, you know, leave them there, and they could put som e hay out there and feed them. H e made sure they was fed and everything every day. And from there, we had to find them first. So everywhere that they heard about there was mules they wanted more mules than they did horses. But some of those wagons end up with a horse excuse me t wo horses leading the wagon. But in most places it was mules, we had mules. And to get ready for that, they was having r allies. I had to make out all of the fliers and everything for the rallies, and if they had somebody coming in to talk, you know, different from us. They was trying to get the people interested, but m T ome out to the rallies unless somebody was coming that they heard of and they wanted to see them. So nd
MFP 067; Burres; Page 8 d. And they tried to keep the s taff from going to the school. T them in jail. They ended up doing that because we was getting pretty close to time for them to get out of here and head to whole lot of time, because this thing was just put into effect after Dr. King had passed. And so, because one of his main reasons for the Mule Train he said it was because he would like to get on the Mule Train and experi ence the experience that the people did when they went W looking forward to doing that. And riding the Mule Train you know, sometime, not all the time. But that was his baby, they call it. KW: Ms. Burres, what was some of the fo undations of the Mule Train like what was the purpose of having the Mule Train ? BB: To demonstrate to the people that we are in a poor condition down here in Mississippi and nobody seem to care. There were needs that the people down here need. We needed a doctor that would wait on us according to, you know, the problem that we had. And it would have to be a doctor that somebody else was paying raise chickens will give him a chicken or something like that, like, you know, like they have in the old days. They was doing that, so that was all they could do. So they had to get somebody that was interested in our health condition as well as them, we had a whole list of things that we put together, an d nobody really believed that. B ut we
MFP 067; Burres; Page 9 wanted jobs, we wanted information on different things that would help us, and better books. We were using the books from the white school, and we was just so far behind, because they got almost new boo ut our education had to come that way. It had to start that way. And so after that, food stamps and they w as afraid to go and try to get food stamps. And they was wonderi omebody tell the m what to do to go and get them white people would giv e them would fright en them away. S o they just, you know, than what they were doing. And they was wanting us to help them do the thing that we later learned and did for them. So, that was one of the things, some of the things that mostly got everybody to kind of cooperate. You got to those meetings, you find out there was mostly ministers because the ministers the one that started it. And they had their wives with them. So all of the ministers that helped in the civil rights they had their name on each one of these buildings B ut when they took their names down and the alphabet to paint that up there, some of them got put back on an name that was on this building, it s not on there anymore, but the one, S.A. Allen is on that building over there. But it was about ten to twelve ministers around here in this area and other areas of Quitman County. They all came together and this is what they wanted to do. They wanted to be tter Quitman County. And they wanted to do something to
MFP 067; Burres; Page 10 know how to get it. And so the main purpose of the Mule Train was to go and take our message to Washington to let them know that we were people down here t hat needed help and i t should have started with the P resident. And so we was going to take the problem up there to him and ask him to help us. Because and then we g ot o give them any slop. You know what slop And my uncle used to get he had sixteen children, him and his wife, so he needed a lo t of food [laughter] to feed everybody, he needed a lot of food, so. He would work at this school and he would get all of the leftovers and take them home to slop his house [laughter] and the pigs. But that was too good I guess, they went a nd threw it in the river Coldw ater River over there. And the people that made the m upset again, so When they got started on the Mule Train they were having rallies. B at the rally because they wanted to know, w And me, I had to stay in the of fice all the time because I had to answer the phone, take the messages, do the notice for the rallies and everyt hing, and I just, there was only so far, you know, so much that I could do being as one person. But the retty good job because they left me there to do it all. Nobody helped. But they would help Mule Train A lot of them went
MFP 067; Burres; Page 11 to Washington for the r e Mule Train They said, t hat sounds dangerous picked on, you know, by different peoples going through some of these towns in n And you going an d children, because my mom and daddy not able to, you know, look after them. And I had just had a baby. You know, I mean she was a little more than a baby, g them all, all six of them. I was going to take just four and leave the other two here. But I told Mom and D addy before I left, I said, w e getting ready t o pull out Mom, Daddy. I said, n ow if y you can do this s he said, w ell when you going to be back? I said, I have no ide ell, then I think you better take your children with you [Laughter] I said, o kay, no problem. All I had to do was to make sure all of the messages was given to the person that they suppose d to be given to, and th en I could keep up with my children. But then I had to work on something for everybody to do and work on everything. Where we were going to stop, how t ready for us. We carried food with us, we carried latrines with us, we carried food for the horses with us, and those trucks followed us as we went down the highway, but before we get to that, the children the teena gers, the children in that year, 1961
MFP 067; Burres; Page 12 1960 and the children in 1961, the they left the school when they put the SCLC staff in jail. They put five or six of them in jail because they came to the high school again and they told them not to. So after they did that, the children just walked out of school, and the teachers walked with them because they said, t hey were my children and I was responsible for them, so I went with them. So they did, and the one teacher got beaten with a rifle bearer and all in her face was just messed up, and after s chool was out that year, it was so close to being out anyway she just left and went way they went about doing it was not I t was really sad because the policemans got together, t he highway patrol men got together, and some of the offices that in Quitman County for different jobs and things, they all got together and decided that they wanted to run them peoples out run the children back to school. A nd nce they start shooting over their heads and slinging their clubs and things, children just scatter. They just run all over town. down there by himself, mostly. Because the ones interested in the Mule Train and after they got interested in the Mule Train they said, w ow, yeah, we going on these busses. We going on this Mule Train B ut then t they to be able to get their jobs back. And then a lot of them that worked on the
MFP 067; Burres; Page 13 pla their house. So that was that. They divided up. If the man went, the woman stayed. If the woman went, the man stayed here, you know. Somebody stayed here in the family to keep their j ob. And then one time they threatened the your job. So there was one lady here, she had her children was involved in the segregation of the schools, and the first bl ack boy that was going to graduate told him if he went, he was going to come back and he was going to start in the eleventh grade, do that grade all over again, and then go back to the twelfth a waste, so his dad and momma talked with him and told him, y ou go ahead on And neith er one of them went. So later on, his dad was in a march from Memphis to Oxford, Mississippi, for the first black to enter Ole Miss. A nd he was in that march and he had a heart attack, and he died. But we was all back by that time. After we had the rally a nd told the people about the Mule Train and everyt hing, everybody had to register. I had to take the names and the names of all the children and things, so when we left, they told us, w the Mule Train sses too. And they had to find out what kind of busses they had. It was hot that year, too, i n the summer. This was in May. Some of the people, most of the people, young and old, that went, they got on one of those Greyhound busses. So they were nice and
MFP 067; Burres; Page 14 i t s too hot out there to be riding in a wagon [Laughter] but you know, we all get tanned anyway in the summertime, you out there in that field. So they went on an d was there when we got there. T hey was alread y there. They had been there for almost a mont t he busses just stop in certain areas picking up people. Started here, and then headed to W ashington, D.C. And we started here, after it stop ped raining that day. A birthday. So we went halfway to Batesville, then we stopped for the night. That wa [ Laughter] But then it had to start off that way, because the mules hoes, and then on the concrete. So after that, they decided that we would make another trip and stop right on the other si de of Batesville at Courtland. A nd we had to stay at a pull all of the wagons up to a church ther A chu rch over there that we could use. The church was out across the field so it was kind of wet, so we would, you there, w e do up to twenty five miles. W hen we got almost to Atlan ta we did thirty at twelve and feed everybody. W ell Everybody, you know, ate breakfast before they left. Then at lunchtime around twelv e to one, we would stop on the side of the road where there was large spaces and vacant lots where we would fix some lunch because we was looking for the people in the next town that we was going to stop at to have dinner for us. They did, they did. They cooked dinner and brought it to the church and we all
MFP 067; Burres; Page 15 ate, and then they would take us home with them, when they take us home with go spend the night with them. T bring us back to the wagons, to the church early in the morning, because we had not take us. Unless they made some type of arrangement with somebody to complications a couple of times. And then the man in charge of the wagon train supposed to, whatever let him do the talking and whatever him and the officials SB: Was he a member of SCLC? BB: Mm hm. SB: Okay. BB: They picked him, I guess because of, I guess because of his attitude. He has a nice attitude. SB: Do you remember his name? BB: Yeah, his name is in that book, Bolden. Willie Bolden. SB: And did you think that he was a good representative for the group? BB: Yeah, after I got to know him, I thought he was a good representati ve to be the person to lead the, you know, be the leader of the group. I thought that he fit my
MFP 067; Burres; Page 16 he got back home or got out of the Mule Train got off of it, then he became a minister. He went to school to become a minister. And he went back home to Atlanta, Georgia, but now, most or the workers like that, they were nice. They had to have a nice attitude because people sure was looking for them not to have one. And so they h ad to have a nice attitude. And they got to know a lot of the people around because during the day when they had did their business that they had to do and they had to leave, then they would go and visit different peoples in the neighborhood and differen t areas. The rural areas, they would you know, take three or four go that way or three or four go this way, or three or four go east west, north and south, all of those areas they had taken care of. They go and meet those peoples and ask them questions ab out what they like to none of them had to live that way. So they was more willing to try and help us t o get in a better condition. So that was good. But then, you know, the job that all of us had, one was to do what the ramrod said; t wo, eve rybody stay on his or her wagon; t hree, everybody had to help. And the ladies, the older ladies had to make sure that we cooked. The younger ladies had to make sure that we had and whatever they wanted to snack on the y had for them to snack on. The boys would help with the feeding of the horses and the mules. And the teenage boys
MFP 067; Burres; Page 17 would brush them down, you know. They would always brush them down at night before they went to bed. And the men, they would make sure that n obody was in the, back out behind trees and things, you know. But for our safety, and for our safety, we had men with patches on round their jacket to let you know that if you had a problem, you could call one of those people, and they would stop know. And they would stop at the nearest place where there was a hospital. I know, because one time I got s stand nobody even talk to me. Your voice was just like a loudspeaker, you know, hospital one time, and they said, how long was I going to be there? And they said about two or three days and we got that much time. They said, c an you check her and give us the medications so we can leave this eve ning? So the doctor would say, y ok ed at me and they said, is that alright? I said, s Knew I was g oing to say yes. But we had fun. A t night we would have the rally, a couple of the guys would u ld feed us and pend the night at their house. B ut when the times when we would got t o a church and spend it on the church ground at night, then they had the mens watching during the night while the women and the children slept. And the children would play, oh they would play just like they was having so much fun, they were playing hard.
MFP 067; Burres; Page 18 something to do to keep them busy, keep th em together, and to watch them to [laughter], they would. But then me and another young lady had to always check the inventory to make sure we had enough food. The young adult would tell us so we can send somebody to get it. SB: And this was on the trucks? BB: Mm hm, take the trucks a nd get the food. And what we have left, then we would Bringing back clothes because they give us clothes, the lady even went in and gave me a mattress for my children to put on the bed of the wagon, and they gave us radios, can openers, anything portable like that that we could use, you SB: And this came from the church for the most part? BB: All of this come from the different peoples that was at church. See, they would and so they just give it to us. They gave me a table a fan, a mattress, she said, i ess for your wagon so your children can have somewhere t o lay on kay, thank you And we was expecting everything to be under control in Washington, but when we got there, it was chaos. Pure chaos. Some of
MFP 067; Burres; Page 19 the guys on the inside throw ing cigarettes and firecrackers across the fence on the policemen, and sometime they would retaliate by coming in there trying to find out who it was so they could get a couple of them and take them to jail. They took a lot of people to jail. SB: Anyone w ith you? BB: Huh? SB: Did they take anyone with you to jail? BB: Yeah, mm hm. They took us to jail. They told us that we all had to go to jail. SB: And what happened then? BB: We went before the judge, and the judge said, y put you in jail and keep you there [Laughter] But now they had to have a reason to arrest you, so they knocked the watermelons out of our hands that we was going we were going to eat watermelon up on the C apitol steps and they said, n of mine, you know, my children, the nine year old, eight year old, seven year old, they were carrying watermelons. The smaller watermelons. SB: BB: Ah, Brenda, Bu ddy, Michael, Nelson, Terry, and Trudy [Laughs] SB: And is that in order of age?
MFP 067; Burres; Page 20 BB: over there. His name is Brian w e ll call him Michael or Mike, whatever. So they call him Michael [laughter ], and e his name, so they just call him Terry. His name was Terence. And Terence got a new name, Terry. Everybody calls him Terry. And Brenda, they call her Brenda. Trudy, they call her Trudy. The children, well since she was the baby, everybody could, you know, above her could say Trudy. And so KW: Do they remember a lot of what happened? BB: No. The only ones that remember are the two oldest ones. They remember some things. KW: How old were they on this trip? BB: They were nine and eight. Nine, eight, seven, s ix, five, four, three [Laughter] every year. So you start at nine, you end at three. KW: Were your parents still alive at this time when you guys were on the Mule Train ? BB: Mm hm. My mom just died this year. She was back end of March she was eighty eight. And my daddy died in 2006, and he was ninety, he was coming to his ni netieth birthday, he was eighty nine. SB: Were they worried about your safety when you were on the trip?
MFP 067; Burres; Page 21 BB: ld get to certain places where we could use the phone, and I would call them and let them know that we were all the way to Washington D.C. Not on the mules and wagons. Because we got to Atlanta it took us about twenty seven days to get from here to Atlanta, Georgia, and everybody was resting and relaxing and everything, and they called us and said, al l got to be there in three days. g ot to be th ere in three days. I said, h ow can we get there in three days? It took us almost thirty days to ge t here! But that was about half way, so we said, w ell, gonna have to find another way to get to Washington D.C. So they did. They checked with the rail train, put us on that train, took them wagons and mules, put them on there, and we went to Virginia. And we got off at Virginia, and they got those mules and wagons off the train, put them back together. And we boarded them again, went across the river, i nto Washington D.C. KW: Ms. Burres, who were some of the figures involved with the Mule Train ? BB: It s still in the tablet that I kept up with This is the tablet I had, and be lieve it or not, they started putting these tablets out again. KW: SB: You kept this when you were on the road? BB: Mm hm. Because I had to keep up with how many people get on the train, and how many of them get off. Beca use every time they get to a place where there
MFP 067; Burres; Page 22 was going to be a bus coming up there, a lot of them would get off the Mule Train and get on the bus. But we started off with SB: It n the train? BB: Y eah, we started out with eighty three people. But when we got to Washington five, sixty to seventy five because I added as w e stopped in different places. A nd then some would get off and I had to keep up with how many was added and how many got on, you know, got off. And one boy, we had to leave him in Alabama someplace because he jumped off his wagon before it stop and broke his leg. And we had a mule that kicked a horse to death in Gre That mule kic ked that horse to death. Said, n o, we got to wait, we got to take patrol did, they rode the horses mostly. They were on the horse s, and whenever we needed some attention or something, they would go and tell the ringmaster up there, they called him R amrod. They would go up there and tell him, and then he would determine whether or not we were going to stop or not, and take care of hi m. But I have them here separated, and children, the children from the adults, But this is just putting them down there, just keeping up with them that way, because we started out with eighty something children women, men, children, staff. And they had some extra helpers, you know, on the trails, they had the wagon for them, and some of the young me n, you know, they did that. But most
MFP 067; Burres; Page 23 of them I guess he thought that he was going to be al l right, because h e just done jumped off of there, broke his leg. And we had to leave him in Alabama. He said that was where he was from, so he could go on and get his family to come and get him. And then we had a horse ride up for some reason, and knocked that turned the w agon over down in the wade in off the highway, and tore that wagon up. SB: Were people in the wagon when it was turned over? BB: There was a couple of them, there mostly was those teenage boys they was in the wagon, so they jumped off, most of them, when the wagon was going down off the highway. They jumped off. But only one person was left on there, and he was trying to control the mules. Well shoot, they run down that little hill, and shoot. Flipped that wagon over. So whoever had anything in there, yo u know, everybody helped them pick up the stuff that they had. But this is the t roster. SB: Is this the first page? BB: Mm hm. KW: BB: Yep. Come to find out there was s ome more Johnsons on there, so [Laughter ] SB: An d what were some of the o ther complications that you ran into? Were there maintenance problems with the wagons?
MFP 067; Burres; Page 24 BB: We went to Eupora t us go through that. Now see, we had planned on stopping at Winona. We stopped at W inona and Duck Hill, and Winona; now you know, we stopped there stopping th ere, because we really had just taken off from Winona. The police came up to the wagon and said, y ot allowed to pass through here. And we said, yo u know, Bolden says, w hy? He said, t his is a public highway. He said, y to c ould you take me into town so I can u se the telephone? He told him, s take you into town. And he got on the telephone and he told them what had happened, that they were stopped. SB: Who did he ca ll? BB: Washington. And they said, w hy they stopped? And he told them, he said, w e allowed to go through the town. You know, on the highway. The highway you know, you c an go on and bypass it and you never really know when you really bypassing unless you reading. But he got there and he talked to somebody in Wash ington the lawyer, that n, and he told him that, said, w ell if we c just have to pack up here and c ome there. And everybody said, n o no no no, here! Well got to get by some type of way. And he said, l et him go through, let him go through. So th ey decided to let us go
MFP 067; Burres; Page 25 through, but instead of letting us go through, they offered us their hospitality. They said, y use the gym over there to take a shower, and bathe the little children if you want, so if you need us to get you any food, tell us what, and No, ally planning on st opping here. And the man said, o No pping here, you all stopped us. And then they wanted to offer their hospitality and opened the school to us for us to use if we they said, w ell, we sorry we had to hold you up, but it was just something els e that ha d to be taken care of. I said, m m hm, yeah, I know. And they let us go. They figured that they had done satisfied us by being nice, well want Washington to come there. Because I know they watching television and seeing how the people was gathering up and what they were doing in Washington. Ooh, they were totally out. So we went on, and the only other place that we got stopped was in Georgi a. We was kept at a National Guard Armory for a whole day. We missed the day that way. Because we were trying to get permission to get on I 20. Because the Governor of Georgia said, n ffic backed up for the longest. I said, y ep, but if you all let us go on and get out there early, you know, we was about fifty miles from Atlanta. Forty we were only planning on using that day t o get to Atlanta. We did not make it to Atlanta that
MFP 067; Burres; Page 26 day. So they decided that they would they went and got us food and everything, told us to come in the National Armory, sit down, rest, some went to sleep. Some of the men went to sleep. Most of them. Eve rybody was still woke, playing with the children, you know. After that, they brought us breakfast that next morning, and told us that, y ou all can leave, but you all going to have to leave early in the morning. What time to you all usually get up and get o ut on the road? We said, w e get up at four and be out on the road by five. He said, n there on the road by s ure we can. And after spending that day in Georgia ; Douglassville, Georgia then we were permitted to leave. We had to get on the i e going to take, see, we about nine he said would have been the rush time, so by that time, we would have been off the highway, off the interstate. So that was the only problems we had, but the people was standing on the side of the road in every little town we went through, whether it was an all white town or an all black town, they were just standing ther e just looking. No incidents. And I was surprised, problems, you know, that disturbed all of us. See, and I said, w ell, it turned out better than I though t it was, because I thought fo r sure I was going to have to be guiding my children from somebody if they come up here and mess with my children [ L aught er] KW: effect on the Mule Train or the success?
MFP 067; Burres; Page 27 BB: Yeah, because it s why it went through, because of his desire to have that Mule Train come through Mississippi, to start in Mississippi, in Marks, Mississippi, and go all the way to Washington, D.C. That was his plan. But as I said, the plan got we left here on the thirteenth of May, and we was supposed to be in Washington on June 17 for Solidarity Day. And we was just getting to Atlanta, because of the stops, the wagon problem, the horse problem, and people getting sick, a boy jumped off th e wagon and broke his leg. What else happened? And you know, whenever anybody else had to use the bathroom, we would have to pull off the road, and everybody take turns using the bathroom. We had a couple for t he ladies, a couple for the men. So when the m en got through using their bathroom, then some of the ladies and girls and things go in and use it we moved faster that way. that night for a rally, then we just had a rally ourselves y ou all are doing so far, so far you are doing good. But we still got so many miles to go. And we sing, the ladies, we fix dinner for t hem to eat and everything that was not n over there told me, he said, a ll I remember was we had pork and beans all the time. He said, w pork and bean s all the time. I said, b oy, please. I fixed more than pork and beans only pork and that you cou t hat was by choice, if you wanted to eat the
MFP 067; Burres; Page 28 pork and beans and stuff like that in the morning for them to eat, and we had water for them to snacks at lunchtime, and sometime we would stop in between, if something, you know, come up in the road or something, we had to wait and stop in between there, and give them all snacks, something to drink, something to snack on. Everybody was fine, nobody really complained. No complaints. They just said it took so long. And I had on kneepads, and boy, my leg was tanned. Deep tanned all the way down there. You know it took three years for it to go away. Out there sitting in that sun on that wagon. SB: And what did you do when you were actually moving? When you were on the move and travelling, how did you pass the time? BB: Oh, I had one mule, and my friend had t he other mule. They said, y ou all c drive no wagon that way! We have been driving it this way ever s ince we got started. They said, w hat? Both of you got a reign? Uh it. children. They liked to sing. SB: What did you sing? BB: Oh, some of the road song s that we sung on the road at the rallies, you know. and songs that, see, what was the other one that we always sing? A lot of people sing it now. Oh, a famous song. I pla y
MFP 067; Burres; Page 29 they had any new games, then they would talk abo ut the games they had, I said, w Okay. h them at home, and, you know, they went on, they said, o h, well, okay, They tried them all out. And I sa id, T rudy, what my baby doing today? Somebody gave h er a book, you know, she liked the book, and she said, w ill you read it to me? I said, y And I sleep. Yeah, they seem to have fun. They get out there and they play games. Little Sally Walker a nd all that stuff. Run in a circle. We got to Atlanta, everybody was glad they got to Atlanta. They fixed to have a big dinner for us when we got there, and they toured us first, while they was putting everything out, the food and the plates and everything we went by the church that Dr. King ministered at, and so both places they showed us around the re, in Atlanta. And so I said, t good. My children said the only thing t hat was nice, oh they went to a juvenile home, or school, wherever, when we was in jail. We was in jail three days. SB: So you were separated from them? BB: Mm hm. We was in jail thr ee days. I asked them, I said, w l going to do with my childr en? They said, t about them. They have a place that they put the children, and they play together. Do you want them to stay together? I said, w ell of cours e I want them to stay together. They said, w ell, the
MFP 067; Burres; Page 30 at the school and everything. Because they had all of the children over there. They had, ooh, they had a lot of children. Not only the ones that was on the Mule Train they had those that was already the re in Resurrection City. They had their children out there, too. Especially the small ones. Anywhere from ten under. So that meant a ll of mine, and I told Brenda, Brenda, you better look out for my baby [L aughs] So she looked after the baby, and I told th at oldest boy the re, Buddy, I told him, I said, y ou better keep your eyes on Terry. There he is up there. SB: Were you afraid for your children? BB: going to be staying in, you know. Was they going to be able to play, and play games, whatever. And I had t his friend of mine go over and check on them when they put me in jail, so he come by, he said, t hem children is having fun. I said, They are? What are they doing? And so he told me about the games that they were playing and everything, and they was eating, they would let them eat any time they wanted to. They had a lot of fruit and stuff for them out there to eat on. So them children was fine, they was singi ng, they was swimming! I said, But they had a little kiddie pool out there, you know, where they can just go in there and sit down in the water there and everything, and they had my baby in there kicking at the water. There ki cking in that water. I said, g ee, whiz. But they were taken care of very nicely. When I got out after three days, I we nt to pick them up, they said, Momm a, can we stay a little longer? I said, c an you stay a lit tle longer? You want
MFP 067; Burres; Page 31 to stay? Uh huh, we want to stay. Let u s stay til l the end of the week. I said, I then they want to stay there. We [L aughter] I said, s hoot. I said, y The watermelo ns they knocked out An d they put us in jail. I said, watermelon. SB: Did they get to hav e their watermelon on the Capito l Steps? BB: to the juvenile center. And they told me they had so me watermelon, though. I said, w e did, too. P robably some of our watermelon. But they enjoyed it. They stayed there until they was there four days after I left I was calling them every day y y to come over to where we are? No. w time. You supposed to be with me. hot out there, and we get a chance to swim, and they feed us good. I said, l ong as you are gett But I let them stay the rest of the week and I went and got them on the weekend. They really enjoyed themselves. Now they remember that. SB: And what did you do once you left the jail? BB: Once I left the jail, then my job was to make sure everybody got back home. SB: So that was the end of the trip?
MFP 067; Burres; Page 32 BB: Just about it, because once the judge got through with everybody then you know, he told them, y e again, I SB: And what was the charge, exactly? BB: Well they charged us with messing up the street busting the watermelons on club and ones that we was carrying, he just took ours, and got it close to the ground like that, and then dropped it. I said, t hat sure was low down. They said, y ep. SB: How long did it take for y ou to go to court? BB: Those three days. There was so many people there. T hey locked us up like on Monday, and Wednesday we got a chance to see the judge, and the judge was letting a lot of people go anyway. He said, in w ell tell them The police was the ones bringing us there. They said, t ake them to jail. Take th em to jail. Take them to jail. SB: Everyone on the Mule Train went to jail? BB: Uh huh Everyone on the Mule Train went to jail. SB: Did they have room for everyone? BB: Oh, they had room for a lot of people in that jail. And the courtroom was always full. Yeah, they had more than one judge that was letting us go.
MFP 067; Burres; Page 33 SB: Did you have any sort of representation did they give you a lawyer? BB: Oh yeah, we had a lawyer. SB: Oh yeah, you had a lawyer in Washington. BB: Yeah, in Washington D.C. we had a lawyer. KW: Ms. Burres, how successful do you think the Mule Train was in accomplishing its original goals? BB: I think i t was not fully, but three fourths of the way. KW: BB: Because the way they were handling the things in Washington, and you know, President Johnson went on and passed the laws and things, some of the laws that we h And so, well, I said, w ell, we got a good start. Any time you can make that much success, I always said that was a pretty good start. And a lot of the people from the Appalachians and people from California and all, they were there, and a lot of them said that they had some of the same problems that we were having in Mississippi. But they said, y ll really messed up. Ooh, yeah. I had to be there un til everyone was gone I said, s ack to Mississippi. They said, w ell you know what, send them anywhere they want to go. Wherever they want to go, just get them a ticket okay. And I told them, w ell you Oh, really? Good. And that
MFP 067; Burres; Page 34 was either about five different places that, you know, out of where everybody wanted to go. Five diffe rent places they wanted to go. [Phone ring s ] Excuse me. It was a lot of fun, and it was helpful, because a lot of things that we was facing before, when we come back, the ones that did come back, they tried to make a difference. An d the mayor asked me, he said, w ell what is it that you all need? We need what you need. And he said, o h, well maybe I better as k you what it is that you want. I said, w e want what you want. And he said, the mayor said, w ell you all back h ere to start some more trouble. I said, n o, we not trying to start trouble. And he asked me, he said, w ell what is it that you want the one up here. I said, I was wanting some of the same things th e people out there was wanting. He said, w ell you the only somebod y up here talking. And I said, o h, okay. He said, n ow ll change things for you, anything you want me to b they want any change. I said, w ell I was representing, I was representing them, you know, I was speaking for them. Well if y want it. I said, y ou know what we mean. You know what we want. I said, y ou all t have to try and be, you know SB: Playing dumb. BB: R we get food stamps. He said, y eah, you do. I said, a it. So I come out and speak for them. Oh, you going to go home with them? No,
MFP 067; Burres; Page 35 and to get on welfare. I said, because some of those people out there in the rural dren. Their children are sick, nose running all the time. T hey need it. They need help. Mule Train to let people know that we need help. And so he said, o kay. I agree with you, you need help. But we still can only do a certain amount of things for you all. I said, I understand that, but then, you know, the people that are in charge, that are running for certain offices m speaking up for them, back there. You can speak up for them, because we know that we have that need. And he said, w you rself telling me what you want. I said, [laughter] I told him, m not trying to be big and bossy and unafraid, but somebody need to talk up for us, and if I g et a chance to do it, I will. SB: And what was his name? BB: and excuse me, but remembe remembering names unless they met me or confronted me about something that KW: Well Ms. Burres, since you said the Mule Train was about three quarters successful do you attribute that success to the election of current black political figures such as Barack Obama.
MFP 067; Burres; Page 36 BB: Mm hm. I consider that was a start a start in part for all of the things that have only change here, it changed all over the United States, and other places also, because I heard people say, you know, that it s good that somebody had the courage to go And so I said, w good. Good they can appreciate the fact that we did take the chance to go up in there, because we never had any idea what would happen. We went up there thinking and hoping just hoping to be the type of people that can live in wherever they wanted to live, comf ortably. And, you have to have a job to live comfortably. Only job they had around here was cotton picking, chopping. Chopping beans. When they got factories they started opening up factories it was a few of them. Then they integrated the schools. They integrated the schools, and that gave some black people jobs, like the lower jobs, like janitor, cleaning up, sweeping up, washing dishes, cooking, more jobs that was open up for us. We were able to apply for welfare, we were able to apply for S ocial S ecu rity, and the doctors did their instead of changing the waiting rooms putting them together down before they did that But then there were some that would knock down their petition, put those chairs in there, and they sit on their side just like we was thing, because they know that we were
MFP 067; Burres; Page 37 cured because we were sick. So why not wait on us ? We can be i n the waiting room waiting on somebody, when finally they get through callin g all the whites in if one happened to come in the door and it s your turn to go up there, you had to wait til l But some of few things so as to say, to keep your mouth closed. No, shut up. Bringing all that attention to Quitman County. Quitman County needed a lot of attentions. Ooh yeah. In town and water all the way up to you had to wade in water out of your house to go down the street. Mm h m. Or move out of your house. Some of them had boats in the lower areas close r to the Rule the bounty land as they call it they had these little fishing boats, and they would get in their boat and get some of the stuff they needed from somewhere else and stay til l the water go down. on ever have to live that way? And I j ust looking at those peoples in Haiti. It was a lot of people over there a lot of people. And those children, being trapped in them buildings, that was so But they got help. SB: And that was something that was going on in your community, that was allowed to go on. BB: Right. They slowly started doing a lot better, and I was surprised at the way things changed here. They did. They started letting black peopl e run for offices in the elections and everything. You know, somebody would run for a school board
MFP 067; Burres; Page 38 though they might not support them, but you know, you got to right the wrong. It did SB: How long did it take after the Mule Train to get your first black elected official in Quitman County? BB: I think it was about four years when the next election came up, some of them was running. And then some started running and then they stopped. They let to get support black people. SB: Why do you think that is? BB: I guess because they know each othe r too well. T f I cheat, [L aughter] Oh have changed. You know, this area was known for its Klansmen, and that changed a lot of things, and it kept a lot of things down, you know. Every time people get into it and they tell all the whites and so they start we aring them sheets and things and they start doing they business and opening their business
MFP 067; Burres; Page 39 up to everybody. Even though they sitting back snarling at you, you know, you they will st ick together on anything, they can despise a person, they can really to get together with you, anybody, whoever they want to get together, they have their enemies, their friend there with the m together. And I used to say, n ow that? Black people have to be pushed against a wall, and when they do, they ve learne d in this life since I and I u all coming in here like that n o way! What you doing with that white woman over th ere? And what they doing with that women! SB: But you welcomed us. BB: person that likes to read the B ible, and the B issue of blood. One issue of blood, and all of that blood is red. So you all are just as much human as I am, and I am just as much human as you are. So that really you know, just like we were a little puppy on a string, you know, you got the leash around your neck, and, c But gradually, slowly, year by year, they changed it. An d then we had a black
MFP 067; Burres; Page 40 mayor. We had black alderman. Maybe one white would be in the group of the five aldermen, one. And they want that desire to have that control again. They man better, I can depend on him. So they learned to start doing that. They learned to let black people have office. We here. We pay our taxes, we pay our bills. We go in the store and buy stuff. Why not? Why not. SB: And you said that you wanted to write a book about your experience? BB: Yes, I did. I wanted to write a book about my experience, but I jump from one to help me keep it down the line, you know. The way it happened, the way it occurred. Sometimes you have to jump here and jump there over here. My grandmothe say, b oy, you thought you fart but you shit [L aughter] d s ay, y ou over there thinking, thinking about? I thought you were talking about y eah, uh huh, you thought that you did o ne thing and you did another, and you had to go to the bathroom. SB: BB: Well, I share my story with a lot of people from here, and they have went and wrote stories about them, wrote books about them, published books about them, n,
MFP 067; Burres; Page 41 as my son told me, he says, Momma, you just telling folks about something you ought to have in a book, an ng for it. I said, w ell, they come by b ut you know, somebody could get together with all of the information that I have, put it together from each book, you would have a dynamite book [L aughter] Because I have a I the exact same story. See, I might tell about those pictures or things in that book, and then the others, I tell them what happened really. It ve told I tell everything I sit up and I talk about our attitude on the Mule Train right behind each other as it happened. See, cause some peop le ask questions, like how did you all get along on the Mule Train And I tell them how we got along on the Mule Train I say, first of all us especially the staff and the people t hat was volunteering as staf f. T old them how we wanted everybody to behave. We want everybody to know that we know And so we just had to tell all of the other people the same thing. Just like I said, when we got to Washin gton, D.C. it was chaos. It was pure chaos. They were running in and out and the police was messing with them and they were messing with the pol nothing about all of that roughness, b ecause we had had it. We had worked together. We had worked together to get everything together. That means when we all got there, we got there together. They got in there and they stole all of our
MFP 067; Burres; Page 42 stuff from us the people had given us. So I said, w ell, I should have known it was going to be different because there were so many people in Washington D.C. It about how we were supposed to behave ourselves. And people are just differe nt You very seldom see two people just alike. But people get together, they talk importance in their mind How old are you? SB: Twenty one. BB: have for their parents. And that bothers me, because can really do about that. Except whenever I see someone doing something the y school. What are you learning in school? One boy told me, nothing. I said, w ell why are you going? Because my momma sent me. Mm, they did. But you know, if I had to just think about this, and they would em pty all the peoples out of the S enate in Washingt
MFP 067; Burres; Page 43 carry it anywhere. And after that, children ju st do what they want to do. Parent s just like, w e just you know, we sharing a house together, he living room. You just stay in your room. SB: Mule Train had a big impact on their upbringing? BB: No, I had an impact on their upbringing. Not on the Mule Train But they did hear from me some of t he things that I was trying to teach them. Because I tell them, i f you want somebody to listen to you, you ought to try to listen to them sometime. hollering and singing and going on, how do you know what they said? It could have a handicapped son, Terry. I work with him when nob to see forty six forty seven So that let me know that if I can train my son and talk to my son about life, it can help h im a lot more than just going the medical way, you know, taking him, giving him his medicine, taking him to the d octo r for the doctor to check him. A doing. A handicapped person can do as much as you let him do, because h
MFP 067; Burres; Page 44 there and stare him in the face as long as you want to stare him in there. And like he tell s me, Momma, why you staring at me? did you under stand what I said. W hen you said it, what you said? I said, u h huh. I said, w h ow can you understand listen, you learn. erry what that is, n h The way they teaching in schoo our mouth and listen. Stop this: what people saying then you can get somewh ere. Because you know what they say. When you learn it, when he learn it, he got it. I told him one day to learn how to, he had to learn his time tables. Terry got busy, and he learned to say his twos. And he came back and told me that he know his twos. I times ten. Ah he said, you have to count it know it, times this or nine times that. Not the same one all the time. I gave him a different
MFP 067; Burres; Page 45 I know you know it. So he did it. He learned it just that way. I said, see what you can lea rn when you stop and listen? You got to listen to somebody. Somebody knows more than you. So now he likes to get on the little boys and tell them how to learn ABCs and they time tables and stuff like that. He was so busy learning his, he learned his all th okay. I know he realized by now th at he has s ome type of handicap. I never treated him that way. And I told his brothers and sisters not to treat him that way. I say, he gonna run with you all, play with you all, any time he wanna play, let him play with you. They say, he slow us down. Let him play w more smarter than a lot of people think he is. I fell down a flight of stairs when I was pregnant with him. It led to a blood clot on the brain. But I and she then went into food. She learned to put food together and she know how to cook it too. Charles was a truck driver, him and Michael was a truck drive r. Michael still driving trucks. But Charles got diabetes and he had to get his self I alw ays taught them, if you go out there and get a baby outside of marriage, you take care of it. It s simple as that. Why do I have to? I say, you have to because you the one who helped got it, so you go ahead and take care of that baby. So
MFP 067; Burres; Page 46 they did that. Nel son, he was the soldier boy. He wanted to go to the Army so he could get married. And last week, him and his wife were married twenty nine years. He retired after he got to a place where his back was bothering him. He had surgery on his back so he retired after twenty four years in the service. So girl. So them. From my truck driver to my nutritionist to my accountant. SB: Well BB: glad when somebody wa nt to come over and hear you talk. from time to time. But in order to learn anything you got to listen. SB: I think I can speak for everybody when I say we truly enjoyed this, and there are a lot of surprises the notebook you have, the records you kept are incredible. BB: Well that was a special thing. I was keeping them out until I realized, I started getting together with some ladies, I wanted to put a museum in Marks. But I lly know how to do it arthritis in every part of my body. And when it get cloudy, I know it. I know it. And I have lupus, I have diabetes. I take all that osteo immune system. I have all
MFP 067; Burres; Page 47 tunnel, and cataract on one of my eyes. This eye got arthritis in it. So n ow I got to think about getting the other eye get the cataract off that eye --and then doing my other hand. Carpal tunnel. I had a knee replacement surgery because I played sports in school. I ran track, I did high jumping, broad jumping. The only thing I they was talking about getting a tea m for me to play football. And M omma said, girl getting a girls t want to play football? everything that a boy would do and very little that a girl would do. I do like to cook. I cook. I had si x children, I had to cook. T hey was right behind each other. [Snaps fingers] [End of i nterview] Final edit: Diana Dombrowski, July 18, 2013