MFP 003 Interviewee: Willie Spurlock and Bright Winn Interviewer: Stacey Nelson and Amanda Noll Date: September 12, 2008 NE: We are interviewing Willie Spurlock, Junior, and interviewed by Stacey Nelson open ended question to either of you. Please state your names so that we can identify the voices W: My name is Bright Winn and, for the history record, I went by Fred Bright Winn when I was here, but I dropped the Fred years ago. S: NE: Okay. Let me ask both of you how you guys first or, first a question to you, Bright, how did you first hear a bout and get involved with the m ovement in Mississippi? W: I was a student at College of Marin in Marin County, California, north of San Francisco, and a young civil rights worker came out and addressed our campus at a campus gather ing and told us about Mississippi. I had grown up in California in the white area of town; I was living in Marin County, almost all white. I knew nothing really about this, that this was a total shock to me that such activity was going on in America, that people were denied the right to vote, that people were lynched, people were jailed. This was really news to me. There was always, intensity. So I sat on that for almost a year, and then another speaker came. And, by the way, that first speaker was Charles McLaurin. He told us about being shot at and about jailed and about being beaten by the police. A year later, another speaker came, and they were college students from the North who had been
MFP 00 3 ; Spurlock ; Page 2 Summer. And they explained it. I thought that that would be a right thing to do, because there was a huge wrong going on in America, and I volunteered. I became a vol unteer sometime in the early spring, packed up, and went. If we jump decades later, no, I would not want my children to do that. You know? But we had no concept of the extent of the danger, of the intensity of what we were getting into, and there really wa s no way anyone could say, now, I want to sit down and I want to let you know what this is. No. No one could explain that to Mississippi at that time. So, out of a feeling of justice, of righteousness that my country was wrong, no not my country, that Mississippi was wrong I came that same time, my eye openings were this: in California, in San Franci sco which is Liberal City, USA I grew up in a segregated high school. Out of eighteen hundred kids, there was only about twenty black kids, some Hispanics, some Asian, but not many. The school up over the hill, Polytechnic High, it was predominantly black, probably eighty percent black with some Hispanic and a few whites. The school clear over there, well, that was eighty percent Chinese and some whites. The school over there, the Mission District, that was Hispanic. San Francisco was a segregated city, but nowhere in our laws as it had in Mississippi did it say, segregation i s the law ; segregation is the rule. We managed to segregate by gerrymandering school districts and economic districts, so in fact, white kids went to school primarily with white kids, etcetera. That
MFP 00 3 ; Spurlock ; Page 3 same year, while we were here fighting and dying, in California, the good people voted for Proposition 14. This is November of 64. Proposition 14 blatantly said, you may discriminate against who you sell your home to based on race. Beca use, you see, affluent people of color were trying to move out of the ghetto and move over into the nicer neighborhoods. They wanted to be able to say no sixty percent of the people in the state of California voted to discriminate against television. I just, you know Goldwater, le running against Johnson; our eyes are glued to the set. Oh, yeah, and in California, Proposition you know, it was an embarrassment, it was a great disappointment. I told this to the kids I spoke to today, I spoke at a juni or high. Mississippi was not the only guilty entity in America. In fact, every community throughout had its gerrymandering, its means of socially and economically we will do it. So I cam e down here with a sense of righteousness and sense that there was something wrong in whatever city and it had to be corrected. NE: Wow. So, did you grow up around here? S: Yes, I grew up here. So, what he came to find out about, I already knew, so . it involved, because of through SNCC and from that, of course, McLaurin and others at that time during the summer. I used to, I told
MFP 00 3 ; Spurlock ; Page 4 Winn, I used to v iew the Freedom School as a second school. When I went to the there religiously assisting people with how to read so when they go get ready to vote, and those kind of things. And then people who would come there to want to learn how to read, they would have chosen me to assist. And I enjoyed it, wanted to help you know, people. I did that and her Winn remembers this or not they had gotten one of my classmates, Charlie Brown, as the chairman of the Freedom School. I was the vice chairman. Charlie was out of town for some reason, and Charlie was over there by the fountains or something over ther e. So Winn came and found me, and he said, we need to you the vice chairman. So we met. Sure enough, I went to school the next day and I told Charlie what had happened, bringin and I explained. Most of the kids, at that time, had signed a paper and say we would meet out in the gym I mean, out on the bleachers, and explain it to them. Well, we went out there, I explained everything to them and I t ook my seat. Well, as I was taking my seat, I spotted the principal and assistant principal coming around the corner. I told them, I said, here come t he principal. I said, here come s Mr. Brown and Ms. Scott. And one of the guys, Mars care about them. They just kept on talking, kept on talking. So, I knew they were coming to break us up, so most of us just kind of got off the bleachers and walked away. Marsh stayed. I think Charlie
MFP 00 3 ; Spurlock ; Page 5 they were kind of inves tigating, and so they went on. I think Liz came over to the school to see what had happened, she heard about it. But Charlie Brown Redhouse, they got put out of school, really kind of passive because his livelihood was at stake. Well, Mr. Marsh owned property, Mr. Brown owned property, so each one of those two had some independence to some extent. And Mr. Brown, I never shall forget it When they went before the school board, sa always been one to, let my children tell me what happened, whether I agree or disagree. So because they were so adamant about explaining what they thought was wrong and how they thought things were, they were not allowed to go to s chool. They finished school up n orth. Charlie and I keep in touch with one at day, I never shall forget it. As I was walking down the hall, one of the teachers called me to the side and how you handle it. This is the words she used: she said, becau se people will cut the limb off the tree and fall And what she was saying is that people will say the y support a thing, but you get left out there on your own. So, be careful. I was a junior then in high scho ol, we
MFP 00 3 ; Spurlock ; Page 6 guys were not and from that, I look at it now, it saddens me, Winn, because sting for cold water fountains and lockers. Kids got in there and they use it for the wrong purpose. The fountains are okay, but instead of taking your books to class, they pick them up, like, at the beginning of school, and with many of them, we found it at the end of school. Then they start using them for vice reasons and putting drugs and all of those things in there. But they kind of went through that and, eventually, taking dogs through there and checking the lockers and all that. But I th ink, I say to them, we push for something and this is what it turned into. But they kind of cleaned it up, now. They do have the lockers of where to leave the books, pick them up. The purpose of it, for to have the books there by the locker, pick up your later I got two classes together when I go on break. I pick up what book I need, take my books home at the end of the day. You know, year to the end of the year. So there, as I grew older, a little bit here and a little bit there. But my thi ng about dealing with things that are not the like of justice, if you will, I believed in talking chosen as one of the lead coordinators for that. But we had talked. We met, we talked, and met, we talked. I told the inner circle, we told the Chamber folks, the
MFP 00 3 ; Spurlock ; Page 7 business leaders, the educators, the City Club, we need to do something about it. We called on whomever we could use. There were people from outside wanted to come and help us. I, personally, was against that, because if you come help me, then when you leave, those people who we are fighting against, if you will, somebody help, just a call, and so most people I said, okay, fine. Thanks, but just let us move a little further along. That was one of the major situations where we stuck together pretty good. Even though, in the inner circle and it even got going to do it. Say, we too close. We days. It was just like, it almost look like all your efforts were in vain. But my thing was about, like I said earlier, having been in retail I just sell stuff, clothing and I know here, most of the black people support this city. They spend that money here, because most white people spend money in Mem phis, Jackson, Greenville, other places, so they really depend on us. Not only that, when they were doing that Easter is a big spending time. Next time is when kids go to school. So if you hit them here, that knocks them down. Hit them at school time, they missed it, right there. That store, during the weekends for down here, it was making ten to tw enty thousand dollars a weekend. But our efforts, it cut it down to less than fifteen hundred dollars. So we were effective to do that. It was tiring to us
MFP 00 3 ; Spurlock ; Page 8 because we did we moved the women to the streets, I mean, to the forefront of highways in daytime. A t nighttime, we moved them in the inner cities along the up to around the middle of August. NE: You just put the women out there to S: Every day and night. People bring us food. And there were many white people in public schools were being transferred to private schoo ls. W: Ooh. S: Oh, yeah. W: S: Big truckloads of stuff. Books. Try and find them in the prep school So we had there were people in the community who worked over there, trying to cook something up So we had evidence that it was done, so when the pressure was being put on and the last thing, as I said this morning, that we got results when we met with to keep you you keep me apprised. I said, now, when I go to the meeting, I might not tell you no name. So we did it that way, and like I said, inner circle really got kind of tense;
MFP 00 3 ; Spurlock ; Page 9 meeting we had, I met with about six of what we call movers and shakers in this communit contain it in Indianola. Because I was telling you which it was, getting ready to go to the county, and it did go on to the county. The Double Quik corporate would have been most af fected, but we got them throughout the county. He say, wait. Mr. Mogul he said, hey. Because they had a point where certain things need to be told. So the mayor come to see if we could get in touch with him. But anyway, later that night, they got in touch with him. Well, what had happened: he had been to the big country club, cocktailing. You know, and when they approached him about when his lawyer got over to him the lawyer, he said, okay, fine. But they got to pay. It cost him ninety thousand dollars. But, see, they paid a bunch of contractors because the lawyer was going to sue. They just settled I saw the checks, three times thirty, they wrote to him and they appointed the rights of an attorney. He was qualified he was the most qualified, he was more qualified than anyone that was in there, for a man of color in this rough town at that time. Bu t, like I was telling you earlier, my whole approach
MFP 00 3 ; Spurlock ; Page 10 of these upstanding busines looking back, something positive came out of it. I think a lot of businesses come over to the B.B. King thing because of the way they worked together. It really the groundwork was set a long time ago, to sit do wn and have a conversation. Talk, disagree, agree to disagree and that kind of thing. But I never, to this day, I got, man, I came out okay. I feel, in a sense like I said this morning, th at some of the desire, the desire for initiative, taking a stand, came from this SNCC Freedom School stuff. NO: parents thought about you participating in this, going far fro m home and you participating with outsiders coming from other places? S: I can tell you. [Laughter] Actually my mother could W ell see, my dad, in his own work, he worked in the factory. But there were some things going on at the factory that he was trying to assist with other folk to get change. NO: And what kind of factory was that? S: Ludlow. He was at Ludlow. Matter of fact, it got down to the point that he end up moved to an other plant before then because he had a large family to support,
MFP 00 3 ; Spurlock ; Page 11 I asked my dad and he just said, be careful but she was mo re hysterical, in a way, and stressing a bit more e it S down there they came down here to lock us up, and I was just blessed to get away. I been pretty close. NO: What year was that in? S: It had to be in 64. W: When we had the big arrest down S: You remember? W: Oh, I remember. I got arrested. S: Yeah, yeah. I just got away. But I got to say, now, Winn, the same people th at sold me gas in the daytime, I mean, they was active police in the night, sold me gas in the daytime. Same people policing the night sold me food from the W: you later about that arrest, but my father was all for it. He was very supportive. Within a year prior to that, he had announced to the world that I had a yo unger sister who was half black H e had a child out of wedlock. That did change my thinking around to realize that I have a member of the family who is a black community refocused and helped, probably, my decision to come down. My mother was appalled and threatened to sue the college I was at because they had invited a SNCC person there. She said, if
MFP 00 3 ; Spurlock ; Page 12 mother; she was afraid for me. She knew it was dangerous. She had Southern relatives and she knew what it could be. It, unfortunately, crea ted a schism between she and I that, to a degr ee, lasted the rest of her life b ecause I saw in her, for the first time, racism. She had never expressed racist things, but she did when it came to this, when it got close. S: W: Yeah. I was her baby, but also this whole thing, it was more than she could take. close, so we became closer. My younger sister, it was easier for me to accept her as the new kid on the block because of my increased understandings. NO: Can you guys also just tell me how old you were in 64? S: seventeen. W: I was twenty. I was twenty years of age, so, yeah. NE: So what are both your birthdates, just to be exact? S: 11 17 46. W: occasionally made his birthday on Good Friday or Easter. My mother was born on November 24, and occasionally, her birthday was on Thanksgiving. My older sister was born on November 1 T born on November 11, and that is Armistice Day, and everybody h ad a birthday national holiday. [Laughter]
MFP 00 3 ; Spurlock ; Page 13 NO: Oh, wow. You just had to wait a little while, you got it. W: I just had to be patient, you know? NE: Now it has more meaning to yo u. W: birthday off, I say, no. You get my birthday off. [Laughter] S: W: Yes. NE: Well, then, this is a question for you. I was wondering, what were your relation s with the other whites when you came? I mean, the racist whites as well as the non racist whites when you came to town. How were you welcomed W: You mean the non SNCC whites, the white Mississippians. NE: Well, I mean either way. How did they perceive y ou if they knew that you were W: town. Really, the lady who mentioned the tracks I mean, there was the black side of town and there was the white side of town, and no one lived on the other I was contacted with was, we got the Greyhound bus stopped in Ruleville and we were all pulling our luggage off. The Greyhound took off, we were packing up, we white woman, and she said her hair up in curls, and she looked at us and she just went [Laughter] NE: Middle finger.
MFP 00 3 ; Spurlock ; Page 14 W: going to go too well. But, after that, for the first week, we did the at as we were building, or refurbishing, the building to become the Freedom House in Ruleville, my job was to be the carpenter. I was the only one who brought tools. I was a plumber, but I had tools. So, I was making a library. Evening time, a car pulls up and six white guys get out. Young men in dress slacks, shirt, sleeves, and we all kind of looked at th em ATAC, the Association of Tenth Amendment Conservatives and, back then, the Tenth Amendment being the states right amendment and they said, we want to should be here. Well, we sat down us, all of us, black and white and sat down with them and we talked for a good two hours T hey were nice, gentlemanly leaving. They said number. We never made any contact with them. They went back T hey were all from Cleveland area. So, I came back then here forty years later to a reunion, and thi Bishop, he lives here now. S: Zach Bishop? W: Yeah Yeah. And he said S:
MFP 00 3 ; Spurlock ; Page 15 W: Yeah. He says you know, you guys were so right and we were so wrong, but we had our ways. Those white people I came up against, it was a wonderful time. When I went to Shaw, there was a lot of stores in the black community. The store that was best stocked was owned by Joe and he was a white fellow with an Italian name and he was a member of the Catholic Church. We got along fine you know, but buy your soda pop here if you want. He was fri endly and nice. Later, when I came over here, he came over and visited me. You know, he said, encounters with white people were very few, and then the rest of those of course, tho se that gave me the finger, those that threw me in the jail, the white cops, the white sheriffs, the white chief of police, all of those encounters were, of course, structured encounters. You know? The sheriff treated us in a certain way. One time, he knoc I might have deserved it. [Laughter] NE: Was this C.E. Floyd? W: No, this was Holloway. Sheriff Holloway. S: NE: That was the name I saw inscribed in the concrete at the jailhouse in Cleveland. W: Floyd? Y eah, Holloway was Sheriff Alexander was Chief of Police, and then later, Holloway became Chief of Police, finished off his time doing that. But we to day basis and peer level, you know.
MFP 00 3 ; Spurlock ; Page 16 S: But you k now, Winn, I was laughing, and I know Zach. I just spoke to Zach this morning. Mike and I going to get some coffee, I talked to him all day. Matter of fact, he delivered mail on the rural route near my house, and we talked a long time. My son, one of my so try to be that kind of that middle of the road kind of thing. But I just never knew he was one of those, that ATAC W: Yeah, ATAC. Association of Tenth Amendment Conservatives. S: Okay, so. W: He was n and he is the photographer reporter for the local newspaper when I first met sure, but if I tried to help you, my brother would have shot me. S: Was this the big guy? W: Yeah, the big guy with the beard, who S: The big Russian with the [inaudible 32:50]. W: S: But you know he had a beard. W: t since then said, you know, we nything. We knew you were right W Well, those white people are over there and they feared the Klan. S: Right. W: If they would have said, you know, we ought not do a bang.
MFP 00 3 ; Spurlock ; Page 17 S: Ooh. W: You know, that was it. So it was a double edged sword for the white people when they had the Klan. They were as much intimidated by it as black folk. S: If you ever see Mississippi Bu rning it kind of parallel what you talk about, if you W: NE: neighborhood and your childhood before . S: Yeah, well, I was just a normal, poor black child from a large family. But we had about how poor, because I compensated for it in some fashion. If I got in a situation far f for example, there were times that I had and my dad would kill me, turn over in his grave improvise. I would get me a little thin string or screen and sew it up and put black long time in the country, that ribbon break. But you get to playing, yo so, during that time, I just kind always, when I got older, I would try to find little jobs like mow yards. I told people all the time, at high school a nd I would go to the store, and this guy was a
MFP 00 3 ; Spurlock ; Page 18 e to pay me. I kept doing it and he got out the boxes. So, I ended up making my lunch money for weeks by myself, so I had lunch every day because I literally made the chores, picked up the things, did things for him. So, as a result, like if my brother next to me or something and give it to them. So, I guess being the oldest, the older I became and was able to pick up the jobs like when I went to college, I worked at a shoe store, shoe shop, repaired shoes and what they call it. I would always, you know, give my brother a few dollars, until they got up and my sisters, till they got up in society. I got a brother and sister in Houston now. They tell me all the time, they thought I was Dad instead of my dad, because I was always fussing and giving them . Y ou know, you see, my dad worked. But that was just what we did. Whatever we had to eat, we ate. that was you. But I think the thing that got us through it all was : our mother had love for us. But they always instilled, tried to instill you want to do. My mot always look tidy and those kind of things. So she wanted you to make sure that to go to e to take a backseat to anybody; if you do, you suffer the consequences But, if you work hard, you can do anything aggressive just push, push, push, because a lot of the thi ngs I wanted to push
MFP 00 3 ; Spurlock ; Page 19 might play with them, but in a serious relationship, they think that s he pretty, she anything. You know, when you get older, you talk about those kind of things. I you, I had more than you. I just so nd of life. But once y ou get up and I look back now, I appreciate it in that regard, because one of the nei caught up over there shooting marbles one day. My mom called me. I said, okay, wanted me to go to town with them they could have gone while it was daylight. You know, I thought it was cruel, but as I look back now, I can appreciate it because a lot of those guys have gotten into some other things. Chances are, if I did it, by being with them association finance and those kind of things, someone is better than me. family for having anything. NE: W: There were a lot of very, very good families; very stab money T here was a lot of poverty, but there was a lot of strong families here.
MFP 00 3 ; Spurlock ; Page 20 Like his family and Otis Brow the B ridges family, or the Randles, who ran that whole family. Admirable families, what you want, storybook: father, mother, kids, productivity, discipline, church. It was great. S: See, Mary and Jack group; well, we used to go down there and play. I was brought up in an era whereas, if I were over at his house playing, and he felt that I said something or I was fixi ng to get into an altercation some just time. There was none of that It was like, it takes a village to raise a child. It used to be, twenty years ago, that was what was happening. But now, I think the village has disintegrated because, if I say something to your me. So, if a child loses whatever respect if he had any for me, because his mom or his dad going to chastise me for saying anything. So people now say much to because I still think we hav e these problems with black men because of the fact that we have allowed the village to disintegrate. NE: Ve ry interesting. Yeah, and I mean, reading stories before coming here, seems like so many activists have that strong mother figure, that strong father figure. W: Yeah. S: Well, see, first of all I am of the opinion that even a mother and father, the woman is really that cohesive glue that keeps the family
MFP 00 3 ; Spurlock ; Page 21 motherly understandi ng But if the two soon get to arguing different about stuff, that. So why get upset about it? You k now, she calls him and after a while, a few W: he woman plays a very important role. NE: So we got some big jobs. [Laughter] W: Yeah, you got it laid out in front of you, yes. NO: Kind of on that note, when the people from out of town came here, was it the women who brought them in and supported them i n the households, and W: Well, in our case, Mrs. Magruder was the first to let us in, yes. Single woman, S: Mm hm. W: She let people in. Oscar Giles and Mrs. Giles, together, let people in. It probably if I can ring my memory was more often a woman head of household that first let us in. There may be a sociological reason for that, and I am not a sociologist, but there may be, in that, the black men of this area were always at threat of being lynched. You know? Women were not at threat of being lynched T hat was not the tradition. So if a black woman stood up and said something, well, she could lose her job, she could lose her home
MFP 00 3 ; Spurlock ; Page 22 was burned p, at that time, ran the risk of being lynched. So, hence, we more often were allowed in by women than we were allowed in by men. S: wom e n were more aggressive. If there was one that would really be out front, yes. Now, later on, they might bring their men in, like Winn said. They were a little more afraid to step out than women. NE: Wow. On that note, with the threat that black men of being reprimanded for standing up, did you ever lose jobs or anything for involvement or trying to vote or anything? S: gained some jobs because of my activism, whether it be a token or what. I was the first black to go into the catfish industry. I was the first black director, plant personnel, for the major catfish industry, Delta Pride. So I think, in a sense, they needed somebody, and they perhaps thought that giving m e this job, maybe it there were some people who lost their job because somebody and I think, sometimes, the way you would handle it; sometimes, your mouth can get you in bus iness, but I know this wrong, the higher I went up in the industry,
MFP 00 3 ; Spurlock ; Page 23 management thought I was too close to the employees ; employees thought I was too close to management ; go to lunch, just went down o n th e highway, just drove, thinking : t the fact, many of them come to me and expressed their appreciation. NE: Very cool. So, have we heard all your stories about being arrested? W: No. [Laughter] S: NO: Actually, can I ask you something before we start those? W: Uh huh. NO: What kind of training did get before you actually came down here? Did you get any training? W: When we signed up, SNCC sent us a list of books to read. Souls of the Black Folk by W.E.B. Dubois, Black Like Me from San Francisco an d I read some of them. In Oxford, Ohio, the training the hands on training was being out on the quad and having to assume the fetal position as people beat you; you know, how to protect yourself. Then, while someone is being beaten, to throw your body on t them, so that was hands on training. The rest of the training was, we had speakers Bayard Rustin, a noted fellow in that day who had been active for years in the North and the South, and he talked to us about his experiences an d his philosophy. I remember a lawyer, a Southern lawyer, talked to us, and he
MFP 00 3 ; Spurlock ; Page 24 against the order. That was a profound thing to say, because I come from San Francisco, my fath er was an attorney; the law is the law is the law. Unidentified female: [ I naudible] W: Hello. [Laughter] Unidentified female: Oh, they know you, then. W: [Laughter] Unidentified female: Well then, you talking to her? [Laughter] NE: Maybe. Unidentified fem W: Yes, yes. I remember. Yeah, okay. W: Yeah, need to come over and visit you. And that was a profound lecture he gave us, y ou know, because we grew up in law and order, and one was the same, laws, but that w as a profundity, that he opened : you are within the law but you are against the order. And h heard a lecture by him. We heard a lecture by Bayard Rustin. We heard lectures by Bob Moses and other people, James Foreman. We we nt into groups and talked, and I can remember one black fellow, an elderly man. In those days, elderly was fifty. When you get to be my age, elderly stretches. [Laughter] He was fifty and very well educated. He said to us, well, why do white people treat
MFP 00 3 ; Spurlock ; Page 25 b lack people the way they do? Well, you know, somebody raised their hand, and another student says, well, black people are uneducated, and if we can educate them . Then, of course, he said, well, you know, what does a Klansman call a black man with a Ph.D.? The guy goes, what? He said, nigger. You know? So . okay, you take it easy. So, we were ed ucated. And, you know, yes, I went down there with hardly any thought or knowledge of the social morays of black people, of the cultural ways of black people, of the cultural morays of racist white people. You know? How do you educate people in a week? We were a week or five days in Oxford, and that was our training. We came down green, scared, and nave. NE: Wow. What did it feel like? Were you there, and did you get to experience when the people you helped register to vote and helped, you know, with all this, were you there when they first got to vote? W: Some voted in the Johnson/Goldwater election, yes, and they were very proud. But, they were also scared. They were voting, and there are white people staring angry at them. But, yes, they were very pride ful, and very I voted. For the first time in my life, I remember a sixty year old man, first time in my life I have voted. You know, felt great. Voted for Johnson against Goldwater, and of course voted for Goldwater. Yeah, there were people who were very elated when they took the test in the past. You know? That they were able to do that. There were people
MFP 00 3 ; Spurlock ; Page 26 know the constitution of Mississippi which you had to interpret you could take a one liner, or you could take a paragraph. The three of us, being college You know how that is. It was up to the registrars to which amendment he would give out. So, of cour se, he would give the most complex of amendments to the the federal government came down and took some registrars to court, you know, to examine this whole thing. One registrar, the federal fellow was questioning him on the stand, and he said to him, this is a copy of the constitution. Amendment 4, that was assigning and determining as to whether yo u had passed the test or not. You know? So it was totally absurd. Did they is it the short group? NE: Yep. W: Yeah? okay. So, question. NE: I guess, just seeing those people accomplish that, what kind of emotions did that stir in you, or W: Oh, great emot ions. It was very satisfying. But, it was like we registered one from doing it. So, yes, it was individually satisfying, but we were going for the big, so . and, many times w e would take ten people to register and ten would fail. So, that was discouraging all of the time. You know, and to convince people to go and register; to walk around this town and say hi, and visit them, and get a glass of water from them, and sit in thei r living room and try to convince them to go to
MFP 00 3 ; Spurlock ; Page 27 register. They were scared, they were scared to death. They would just say, no I it was a very discouraging time. At times, I was depressed, it was so difficult. Then, you add to it this heat. [Laughter] And the fear. Now, have you been to the sites that have been bombed here in town? NE: No. W: Oh. NE: I know about the Giles store W: Giles. NE: Or Giles. W: On November 1. No, no, no May 1, 65. We would get weekend volunteers coming in, and they would come from various colleges Oberlin, Amherst, Kent, New York and they would drive down and they would stay two to four days, sometimes a week, and they would help us canvass and go about. In this partic ular time, we were in Drew, which was up the road, thirty miles up the road. NO: W: Yes, the jail. That was a particularly hostile town. They were nasty and brutal. We had a lot of people in town. We might have had as many as fifteen other people outside our apartment, parking outside, weekend volunteers. We had some from I was communications and security; that was the job, to make sure the communications were goin g and to make sure everyone was safe. So, I spent a lot of time on the radio and on the phone, and I was the liaison with the Sheriff and the Chief of
MFP 00 3 ; Spurlock ; Page 28 Police, so I was on good terms with them in that we could talk. Some people ntained, because that was my job. It was getting towards dark, and I had to go drive from here up to Drew with the car to get a bunch of people and bring them back. As I was driving up, I could see a pick up truck on this two lane road, and he was coming a t me. It was like his head was this big, and his mouth was spewing out hate to me. I mean, he was . and we were in church, he was giving me the most grotesque one fingered peace sign ed, just that seven seconds. I thought, well, this is bad. The hate in his face was very bad. So, I went out and I picked everyone up; of course, well, duh, how old are you two? NE: Twenty one. W: Twenty one. NO: Nineteen. W: Nineteen. Well, we were twenty twenty one, twenty [Laughter] These folks have canvassed all day in the Mississippi sun, you know? So said, we want to go out tonight. We want to go here, then we want to go to the Ebony, I want to go here, I want to go to the past I said, no. You know I had rank, I said, no. You all can go to the White Rose, which was a juke joint, a great juke joint. I said, you can go there and you can stay there, no one out on the and partied, offered to bring me back a beer. They went out and partied and I
MFP 00 3 ; Spurlock ; Page 29 stayed and I stayed and I stayed, and I was beginning to nod out and I thought, we nod on the couch. Then, Linda Davis who was here today Linda Davis and Seese starting to come back. L inda went into the restroom and I was on the couch and I grabbed the fire extinguisher and ran there, and my bed and the floor was aflame with gasoline. The fire extinguisher would do nothing. So I yelled for everyone to get out, and by that time the smoke the black smoke we had to leave like that. We got Mrs. Magruder into her bath robe and got her out, she owned the house. Wilton, who was here, her nephew, we all got out. Then I ran back in because I five years, it still gets me emoti onal. So, as we were outside, we had to kick the fence down to get away from the fire and out to the street. Other workers were running to us, and poor Hughes who was Mrs. just, Miss Irene, Miss Irene, and he ran to the front door, into the flames, and he engines came, and I heard somebody yell, they got the Freedom House, which was around a little curlicue, which, it was a little house that we used as our office and for volunteers to stay in. They bombed that, too. The Molotov cocktail came
MFP 00 3 ; Spurlock ; Page 30 through the window and some poor little Oberlin student was in his sleeping bag and it landed on his sleeping bag and started the flame. Well, he jumped up and kept his head and just rolled up the sleeping bag and completely suppressed the fire. So, that was saved, but they said, they got the Freedom House and I turned to the cop and these firemen, who were going deathly slow. Deathly slow. I cursed the cop and I cursed the fire, and I said, you guys have done this. Your people did this. You know? One cop just starts bringing out his billy club car. NE: Which might have been better, right, than getting beat? W: Well, it would have been b etter than getting beat. He saved me from that other cop. People were, you know, the fire the people, the yelling and I heard, they like me, he and I had words before, and h e once had threatened to beat me. But arrest you and you make these people peaceful. Now, they might have gone crazy, because there were some k ids from from New Jersey and they may have done some shit, because they were talking down
MFP 00 3 ; Spurlock ; Page 31 landed in one area, and when the fire department came, he denied them et the firemen in, all and he did. He successfully suppressed the fire in the corner that it was in; some damage, but not great. I looked, and further out, there was a glow, and another s house. So I rode my bicycle there, and there he was. He was a one armed man, and he had his little hose, and he was spraying his house that was an inferno, and the fire department was about getting there at that time. I stayed with him for a while, but t here was nothing I could do, and places. Yeah. Mrs. Magruder did have insurance, and she was able to rebuild her home tore it completely down and then rebuilt it. Wilton still li ves there today. NO: Was he housing people also, in his house? W: Wilton? That was her nephew, he was living there. NO: Oh. W: So, and now, Mrs. Magruder was a grand old lady. [Break in recording] W: Oh, yeah. We were . going from, we were in Shaw, and the bus came. I loaded my chest with tools and my suitcase, and another item that I had, and I went over. I knew that I would get here while it was still daylight. When I got to Leland, and they said, yo u have to change buses. Oh, okay. I got off and I waited and I
MFP 00 3 ; Spurlock ; Page 32 told was stuck in Leland, the ahead and told somebody in Indianola that I was going to be there, ple ase pick me up. I got off down the street at a caf garage gas station, as all the bus know anyt Then I called Shaw and I said car. As I was talking to Shaw, I reached up in the phone booth like this, and I put my hand right on a blac seemed like all these white people are looking at me, staring at me like, who is this horrible human being? I did what I t hink was a foolish thing; I just said, I gotta was black; there were no city lights th at way. So I just picked up this damnable eighty pound chest and my suitcase and something else, and my hand is intersections, in those days, had a wire coming out with a lig ht hanging in the
MFP 00 3 ; Spurlock ; Page 33 middle; a big light with one thousand, seven hundred mosquitoes flying around it. And, do you have junebugs in Florida? NO: Hm mm. NE: We have them in California. W: bout u zz, whop, and hit you, and either crawl into your hair or fall down your back, hit you in the face, and fast as I c turn right, turn left, and there I am, downtown. Winn Dixie, Piggly Wiggly kind of closing at that tim e, and I just kept moving. I had no idea which way I was going, and then go right there is a young black man. I walked up to him a spectacle and he looked me. I said, where are the Freedom workers ? His eyes got big and he just went, like tha association, he just went like that. I turned on that street and I almost ran, but I and there were the juke joints and there we re folks laughing and standing out on a Saturday night having fun, and I was safe. That Church Street was my first introduction to Indianola. Then I stayed; built the Freedom Sch ool, or built the library, built the office, became communications and security person, and spent the area here, right here.
MFP 00 3 ; Spurlock ; Page 34 NO: So you were here for about a year? W: Yeah. Well, I arrived in Mississippi in June. I got into Indianola sometime in July, I le ft Indianola in June. So, you know, it was a year. When we left when I left I got back to San Francisco and not until after the Vietnam War and we learned in our vocabulary, post traumatic stress syndrome. I suffered from post traumatic stress syndrome. N O: Did you say that you were drafted? W: No. Not until after the war, when we got the vocabulary. After the Vietnam War troops were coming back and they discovered this phenomenon called post here. NO: a draft letter or anything. W: Oh, I got a draft letter. Yes. I lost my student funding because I was here, and sometime in there, my father wrote me or called me and said, your draft notice has arrived. I said, well, delay it a little bit. The next day, Linda Davis who lived in Ruleville and Cathy, Cathy Bates, lived in Ruleville. They had anti at six in the morning, I drove up; Cathy, with whom I had absolutely nothing romantic, I got to marry me. Because, in those days, if you were married you were exempt from t he draft. She said, okay. You know? We dashed off to Greenville, and Linda Davis accompanied us. Cathy Bates was having a quiet affair with a local
MFP 00 3 ; Spurlock ; Page 35 all wearing our SNCC clothes, and we got married. Linda Davis ran out into the lot next to the church and pulled weeds for flowers and the bride had a flower bouquet of weeds. We got married. Then, I said to the draft, I sent back, says, hey sent me a draft notice, said, no, you got married post no, son. And so I had to report to the draft board here. Again, I spent so much time in Mississippi afraid. I mean, if Jackson, Mississippi, rode there on their ticket on a Greyhound bus, went through the whole process. The inductor, through all, we get to the inductor. The inductor was Sergeant Tucker; Tucker the Inductor. He looked at my pins I had on a SNCC pin and a Fr eedom pin, a peace pin, you know. He said, do you know what those people, those Vietcong are doing in Vietnam? Do you know what they do to us? They grind up glass and put in the Coca Cola bottles. [Laughter] Like I give a shit. He was pissed at me, and he said, you have an arrest record. Yeah! I just so happen to have an arrest record. Which part of it do you want? I started telling him my arrests, and what kept me out were, although they were misdemeanors, we automatically appealed our cases to the Fifth C ircuit court because the arrests were illegal, the convictions were illegal, so we automatically so, here he had this bureaucrat, the sergeant. He had a fellow who had a minor criminal record but, during boot camp, might get subpoenaed and have to go to co urt. The know? I then stayed out of the draft for the next the last time I went in to see them, that they called me in for a physical, I was twenty four. I still had those
MFP 00 3 ; Spurlock ; Page 36 cases on appeal. On my twenty sixth birthday, I might have gone out and gotten drunk, because that was the limit to being drafted. I made it through. I did not go because of my arrest record in Mississippi. So, that was good. What would you like me to talk about ? NE: So, you got arrested the time when they bombed Mrs W: NE: W: And then get I got arrested, I got arrested for leafleting without a permit. NE: Oh, yes. W: NE: W: No. Well, there was a law in Mississippi that, in order to leaflet and, in our language, we would say in order to practice your first amendment rights you have to get a permit. You cannot exercise that right without a permit. NO: Did you also have to pay for that permit, or W: Yes. There was a permit fee, yes. We had lawyers, the ACLU and actually, it came down one time; they said to me, we want them to refuse to give you a pe rmit. How can you do that? To get a permit meant you had to go before the city I went up speak to Oscar Giles, who was a colored man. Now, if it were one thing, then I
MFP 00 3 ; Spurlock ; Page 37 would have walked out, but we had to get a refusal. So I did the talking. They said, well, Winn, what do you wan t? I said, I would like to get a permit to leaflet. integrated dance, come one, come all, and I gave a date and a location. Well, of course you realize, integration meant w white men and black girls, it was, you know. He looked at that and he said, well, Chairman, I recommend we go into Executive Session at t his time which is a parliamentary term for closed session, no recording. So we stood out in front. Mr. Giles was laughing, he was nervous and laughing. We went back in and they said, such an event as this would cause such a disruption in our community, we are denying you the permit to leaflet. I said, thank you. So we got that. That started a court case, and eventually, that law was thrown out in the entire state of Mississippi. It was a no brainer, it was a first amendment as soon as it got into the court, the Vietnam War, my father had been a veteran, my father had been in World War II, I had uncles who had been in World War II. I honestly believed it was my duty to fight for my country. I had not yet learned about the Vietnam War. At the same time, I said, I am working for my country ay going into the service. I think, if I have an arrest record, I will be able to stop this. So, my very first arrest, I printed up our leaflets. We leafleted every week to advertise the mass meeting, the political
MFP 00 3 ; Spurlock ; Page 38 meeting. But to do that, we would stand o n private property and hand the leaflets public property. So, this time, I got you guys know what a mimeograph machine is? NE: W: [Laughter] But it predates copiers. It was a fantastic machine where you got a sheet of paper and you could type on it, and the strike would knock a window in it. See, so it was a semi rigid piece of paper. Then you put that on a drum full of ink and fee d paper through it; every time it went around, it leaked ink through so you could draw things on it, you could print things and you five copies of mass meeting and I went out, up Church Street of which, every ten minutes a cop came down Church Street just started showing the leaflet to people meeting and the cop came. He slowed down and I could see him, he and I made eye contact, and I handed the leaflet to the first guy. He stopped. He said, Winn, let for leafle I was part of trying to break out of jail with the rednecks that I told you about and spent two or three days in jail until they could raise the five hundred dollars, and was re leased. So, that was one time I was arrested. That would be the
MFP 00 3 ; Spurlock ; Page 39 was the first order. Then, one day, w e decided to picket the white library because there was no black library. We got forty people, two or three of us and forty people. We went up and we picketed. We freedom now, and made noise. I this was after Christmas because I had atte nded midnight white church, but I wanted to go to mine. I met the priest. He happened to be there as would Jesus be doing this? And he huffed on away. But we stayed there long enough, three in the afternoon, they just arrested all of us, marched us right into the jail and put us in a council room, an auditorium room, and the police l out. Well, it was closed, so we went home. got a scar there, today, by a billy club. At one time, they got the auxiliary police when they started shoving people, and people panicked an d started to run. The cops corralled or rather, herded the people all the way, chasing them across the square until everyone went to Church Street and that ended the demonstration. plated or chrome plated beautiful guns fell out as he was running. I still know the fellow who was running and saw it fall, and he made a
MFP 00 3 ; Spurlock ; Page 40 and ran that way, and he got away with it. He still has that gun today, you know? But oh, that was so, because if he had picked it up and one of the cops would have seen him, they would have shot him, and that would have been the end of that story. You know? So, that would have been my third arrest. Then, oh. I was arrested, I told you at that NO: W: Okay, okay. NE: W: NE: Yeah. [Laughter] W: The Freed om School had been bombed, and fortunately for us, the Molotov very scary thing. So, we put a table out in front of this brick building, and we got a kerosene lamp. We lit it and people came Of course, this was apropos; this little light of mine, we sang to lamp and we made our speeches, the subject of the day, and whatnot. Well, all of a sudden we realize, there was about sixty cops surrounding us. They brought out the auxiliary because the y thought we were going to riot because the Freedom School had been burned. Well, rioting or anything like that was the furthest thing from our mind, but they thought that. So, they formed a half moon around us and the chief of the fire department, Fire
MFP 00 3 ; Spurlock ; Page 41 Ch ief, came up to me. Now, this was a guy, when he did the community chest thermometer in the town square, showing one thousand, two thousand, three thousand dollars for the community chest charitable, painting it up, the six on six thousand was reversed. Yo u know? The guy just was an ignorant cracker. NE: W: Just to let you know that his level of education, that he would write the six backwards in the town square and no one in town said, hey, paint a little white over that an d correct six. You know? NE: Wow. I was thinking it meant something bad. W: Well, you know, a blew it out. Well, I lit it. Took a match and I lit the damn thing. He came back and he said, Winn, if you light it again crowd, two days ag electricity behind his mansion, and what killed her was the kerosene lamp. He a brick building and he says it them get away with this, so I lit it again, and he arrested me. George came up and he lit it and they arrested George. No one else lit it, but as soon as we were gone in the car, they came in and started breaking up the mass meeting, telling people, go on, go home. Go home. People fought back, pushed back, and
MFP 00 3 ; Spurlock ; Page 42 the jail. They brought people by, they brought a woman by, she had a hor rible cut horrible gash on her head that a cop had done to her. One of the cops was was at my bars and I called Sharkey everything I could. You are a and he just went by with this poor woman. He came back through to go downstairs to get more, and I yelled at him, you are a Communist. You are a Communist, you are a Communist. At which time he started walking over to try to beat me through the bars, and his partner put his hand forward, we have work to do. About four days later, after I got out of jail, I went to the post office. I was coming back from the post office, walking, and there he was at the mouth of the Church Street like a bull in his [inaudible 1:31:40]. He says, go on. Call me a Communist. Call me a Sharkey, I was upset. I was mad. I apologize, I know you says, Winn, if you ever call me that again he wanted to just devastate me. I got away. Of course, when I got onto Church Street, there were several black men who saw that, and they all go, man, Sharkey was he was gonna, he was gonna. I said, I know he was. So, that was my fourth arrest. Now, I know I was arrested do know I was arrested the first time and I told Jawbone with white guys. Put me in with black people. Those rednecks would beat me up. Jawbone said, okay. He took me and he put me in with the black guys and, of
MFP 00 3 ; Spurlock ; Page 43 pumped up. I said, what are you in here f or? He said, murder. [Laughter] I said, have heard Carver Randle speak. Carver Randle, the big, heavy set lawyer? NO: Mm hm, a little bit. W: Well, his older brother was in they took me out of the black cell and pu for whatever. I cannot remember why I was arrested for the fifth time, but I know it was five, so, call me sixty four [Laughter] NO: Well, I guess to wrap it up, when you left Indianola and you went back home, how did yo u handle what you had seen and how did you get back to, quote unquote, normal life? W: traumatic stress at nighttime. Only until about ten years ago could I be in a car where the light came on at nighttime; I always kept those off. This was our training. I mean, t sit with my back to the door in a restaurant was trained, because I spent a year scared. A year where, at any time, I might die or I might be beaten or something horrible m ight happen to me. As time went by, it got easier, but for the first several years I was on edge. I also left a black
MFP 00 3 ; Spurlock ; Page 44 community where I knew a whole bunch of the community and all of the community knew who I was. I went back and I went into the Fillmore Di strict of San Francisco and a young black woman from here went with me. She and I got an apartment NE: Lula? W: No, her name was Jeanelle. She went with me and we went out there; it was an error in judgment on my part, but I was young. She had lied to me and told me because she was active in the Movement, and probably, I was in love. So we went back. I was a young twenty one, she was seventeen. We got back to the Western Edition The re was a Freedom Store or Freedom Storefront, and she and I went there I mean, the next day I went there and I introduced myself. I were in there looked at me and said, we do out. That so here I am, with post traumatic stress disorder, and I am being rejected, full ear, lived with, almost died with, been to jail with. That was at least a shock to my sentiments Shortly after that, Stokely Carmichael came out with black power, and Stokely the sacrifices you made in the m ovement, but we want this to be a black movement. Stokely Carmichael said, get the fuck out of here, you are shit. So, between what Mississippi did to me and what black folks in the West did to me, I spent a good period of time in pretty bad
MFP 00 3 ; Spurlock ; Page 45 shape. It does know? It just I was lost. I was one of those hippie children lost. I stayed in staying in college was difficu lt. There was a black movement on campus, and I participated in the longest student strike we ever had in America at San Francisco state, and I participated. I associated with black people and I participated, but it was a very painful experience to enter c ivilization again. A certain amount of my family in the form of cousins and uncles and aunts rejected me. You know? They were their parents were from Arkansas and Missouri, so family. I lost my compass. I lost my fulcrum. I was a lost child of the late 60s. So, and at one time, I really just did drop out and wander the world, which was great. I went to Europe and North Africa and South America and Mexico and Canada and all over the United States. What I really was doing was wandering, trying to find, because I was totally my white world had been turned upside down by coming down here; my black world had been turned upside down by going back out, and it was a very, very diffi cult time. So . NE: Wow. W: Yeah. NE: All the sacrifices you have to make just to do the right thing. W: get to do one thing. There is either waves, wakes, or collatera l damage for
MFP 00 3 ; Spurlock ; Page 46 NO: So, do you consider it worth it, everything that you did? W: community is not into a plac e that I would like to see them. We concentrated on foundation. But we had to get over that huge hurdle; we had to get the vote. So, I told those kids at that school today, Barack Obama is there. That would not have happened had it not happened here. And this particular county was every place and everyone contributed, but Sunflower County was the sea This was an extremely important and pivotal place. Plus, it was the home of Fan nie Lou Hamer, who was nothing more than a humble, honest, hard working, honest black plantation worker who had it. Had it. She would have told you, there proud of what I have done and I have set aside aside the hurts the whites that white people did me and the hurts that black people did to me. You know? In the history of things, I was just another civil rights soldier The war was won NE: NO: W: Yeah. All right. Well, now NE: Thank you so much for letting us listen.
MFP 00 3 ; Spurlock ; Page 47 W: Sure. [End of interview] Transcribed by: Diana Dombrowski, August 28, 2013 Audit edited by: Sarah Blanc, August 31, 2013 Final edited by: Diana Dombrowski, November 21, 2013