David Rushing Interview 2009

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David Rushing Interview 2009
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Oral history interview
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Oral history
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United States of America -- Florida -- Alachua

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UF Samuel Proctor Oral History Program
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UF Samuel Proctor Oral History Program
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spohp - MFP 041
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The Foundation for The Gator Nation An Equal Opportunity Institution Samuel Proctor Oral History Program College of Liberal Arts and Sciences Program Director : Dr. Paul Ortiz 241 Pugh Hall Technology Coordinator : Deborah Hendrix PO Box 115215 Gainesville, FL 32611 352 392 7168 352 846 1983 Fax The Samuel Proctor O ral History Program (SPOHP) was founded by Dr. Samuel Proctor at the University of Florida in 1967. Its original projects were collections centered around Florida history with the purpose of preserving eyewitness accounts of economic, social, political, re ligious and intellectual life in Florida and the South. In the 45 years since its inception, SPOHP has collected over 5,000 interviews in its archives. Transcribed interviews are available through SPOHP for use by research scholars, students, journalists and other interested groups. Material is frequently used for theses, dissertations, articles, books, documentaries, museum displays, and a variety of other public uses. As standard oral history practice dictates, SPOHP recommends that researchers refer t o both the transcript and audio of an interview when conducting their work. A selection of interviews are available online here through the UF Digital Collections and the UF Smathers Library system. Oral history interview t ranscripts available on the UF D igital Collections may be in draft or final format. SPOHP transcribers create interview transcripts by listen ing to the ori ginal oral history interview recording and typing a verbatim d ocument of it. The transcript is written with careful attention to refl ect original grammar and word choice of each interviewee; s ubjective or editorial changes are not made to their speech. The draft trans cript can also later undergo a later final edit to ensure accuracy in spelling and format I nterviewees can also provide their own spelli ng corrections SPOHP transcribers refer to the Merriam program specific transcribing style guide, accessible For more information about SPOHP, visit http://oral.histor y.ufl.edu or call the Samuel Proctor Oral History Program office at 352 392 7168. October 2013

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MFP 0 41 Interviewee: David Rushing Interviewer: Candice Ellis Date: August 21, 2009 E: All right. I'm Candice Ellis with the Samuel Proctor Oral History Program, here with David Rushing on August 1, 2009 in Indianola, Mississippi. So, are you originally from the Delta region? R: That's correct. E: Born and raised here? R: Born and rai sed here in Indianola. My father was one of the first families in Indianola. E: Where were you guys coming from? Where did your family R: They came here from Pennsylvania back in 1848, and my initial grandfather built the first two courthouses in what' s modern Sunflower County. E: Oh, wow. R: Yeah, so we've been around a while. E: Your family has witnessed a lot of history in the area. R: Witnessed and participated in it, you might say. E: Witnessed and participated, that's always good. So, tell me a little bit about your childhood. Were you directly, I guess, involved as a young child in . ? R: No, I was more of a witness. I grew up of course, this was a small community now, it was even a smaller community then. I wish I could recall exactly what the population is. But, I came from a family that wasn't what you would call liberal by any means, but had a lot of connections

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M FP 041 ; Rushing ; Page 2 with the black community, so when things started popping in the [19]60s, we just kind of stayed out of the way, and be poli te. That was, I was ten years old in 1960, and I think the first Freedom Riders came in in [19]62, so I was just a child. We had friends, and I'm more from it starting about [19]65 when I started paying attention to what was going on, and I was fifteen th en. I live right down the street from the library here, and they started a I wish I could remember what month it was. It was in [19]65, they started boycotting the library because they wouldn't let blacks in. I never thought about it. You know, I mean, wh at's wrong with folks coming in and reading in the library? They had a couple of incidents. In one of them, one of the Freedom Project workers got beat up by some local thugs right here in front of the library. That really caught my attention and made me s tart thinking about things. Plus, I read a lot, kind of let things sink in and got sort of freed myself some of the old ways of thinking. My main involvement, too, was right after I got out of junior college. I started working for a local newspaper and I s tayed there I just retired. That was close enough after the actual civil rights movement to see things start taking hold. I witnessed and attended a lot of events that culminated from the civil rights movement, and also, some of the kids, African American children my age, were more involved in it than I was. We really never talked about it, but we got on, and . so, I witnessed more of the aftermath.

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M FP 041 ; Rushing ; Page 3 E: Right, because you were still kind of young in the 1960s when things are really coming to a head. Yo u say at fifteen you really became aware of it, and from, when you were fifteen and on, when did you start getting more involved in it? How did you do that? R: Well, I didn't get involved in it directly, being a newspaperman. I was more of a witness. E: You were a witness and a reporter. R: Until later, when I started digging in and learning about I'd go to these rallies and things, covering them as a reporter, for instance. I got to know one of the people involved and the more I talked to them, the m ore I realized how serious the situation was in Sunflower County. Now, I don't know if you've done much research about Sunflower County before you came here E: A decent amount. I kind of glossed over it. I wouldn't say I know anything too . R: You know that Indianola is where the Citizens Council movement first started. E: Right, right, right. Yes. R: Okay, well, I knew some of the people personally who started the Citizens Councils, and they were, of course, a lot older than me. They would ofte n harangue me later about what they perceived as liberal activities in the community, and I just was polite to them and said, maybe y'all need to get in the twentieth century. [Laughter]

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M FP 041 ; Rushing ; Page 4 E: Get progressive with the times. R: the civil rights movement had on the community and on people. I feel a int. Now, together, and doing what I can to keep it going. I made close pers onal friends with a lot of the f reedom workers that came back and visited in such, pretty active in it. E: So as a journalist, you must have witnessed a lot of pretty incredible things. Is there anything that really stands out, any great injustices or any stories that you still remember and still strike you today? R: Well, the biggest incident we had was . a nd this is what really turned me around, is in 1985 when we had a big boycott because of the Indianola superintendent crisis. You should do some research in that, because that was the last gasp of the old group trying to control things here. Basically, we had a situation where we had a qualified black man who worked for the school district as a principal for many years; they had appointing him superintendent, they appointed a friend o f the former superintendent who was white. We had a very long, very bitter boycott here that caused a lot of people to change their attitudes and see that what they did was wrong. What they did, they dragged this through a lot of

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M FP 041 ; Rushing ; Page 5 difficulties; finally, it got settled and taken care of, and the man who should have gotten in, in the first place, was finally hired. But, I attended a lot of mass meetings; we just had national media, and they more I sat there, the more I realized everything even though it was 19 85 the old working with people instead of against them. That was the most important thing, other than this library incident, which was Charles Scattergood was his name. He got beat up pretty badly, and some of the people who did the beating up were people I respected until I saw what they did to an for trying to let kids come in the library and check out books. But that was the biggest crisis, the Indianola superintendent incident. You should read about it. E: Oh, certainly, yeah. R: Let the P eople Decide name. E: I can alw ays go online and find that, yeah R: But Let the People Decide her, you really should read it. He gives a very clear, concise, accurate and definitive assessment of the civil rights scene in Sunflower County and up to this famous boycott,

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M FP 041 ; Rushing ; Page 6 which our newspaper played a major role in small newspaper. A staff of two men a nd the editor played a significant role in. E: Oh, wow. So, it was only you and the editor doing this newspaper? R: Yeah. I mean, we had part time people doing layout and they had sales and stuff, but it played a significant role in getting the thing sett led. E: progressive and open minded, but what would you say about the newspaper you were running as a whole? Did you guys take a side, or did you strive to be unbiased? R: We took a s trong editorial stance that what they did to Robert was wrong. But, of course, our reporting was straightforward. We printed things both because we were the place where everybody was comi ng to, we kind of wound up being making or anything we kind of became the middle man, getting this side to talk to this side. Most of the stance was editorial. We would stay up for hours, talking abo ut how to write these editorials E: Did you ever get any negative, harsh criticism from both sides? R: Oh, yeah. Look, I was a race traitor. E: Right, right. R: I already knew I was a liberal, commie hippie freak. [Laughter] But some of these same people that I was telling you about founding the White Citizens Council, they were still around. They would come up to me and

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M FP 041 ; Rushing ; Page 7 just say awful things, like, their great grandparents are rolling over in the grave because of you taking up for these blankety blanks. worry about it. E: It never made it hard for you to choose your stance? R: our own, and . friends. E: have. R: Well, you know people all your life, you got to in a small town, I mean, E: So, to backtrack just a little bit, when you were younger you know, ten and fifteen, and so on when this was happening how vocal were you about your position? If you were, how did that affect the way that other younger students regarded you? R: at that age, kind of felt I grew up in a small town, and we knew everybody. It was like it was no big deal at all to be on bayou bank fishing and playing with black children. town Mississippi, you k now. There was, at and

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M FP 041 ; Rushing ; Page 8 brought up like this, but I come from a family that was pretty well known to be . trouble until I got to be involved in newspaper work and started being more vocal about things I saw and such. E: Right. So, would you say that, back when you were younger, you had black friend s and you saw other white children with black and there was no really tension or problem in that? R: No, not at that period. E: When you were that young? R: Yeah, I think it got worse later. See, what happened was, we had a little bit of shift in the way p interaction now among young blacks and whites as there was when I was growing up, because the schools are segregated. Even though it was ist situation. We never thought about it with everybody. Indianola, everybody has this conception of the South being this backward, rural area which Indianola is definitely rural, but my yard, which is right down from the library, you go out there on the afternoons and we had a big lot: street was two lane then, slow traffic, and you go out there in the afternoon and there would be white kids, Jewish kids, Chinese kids, black kids, all playing baseball, having fun. I m ean,

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M FP 041 ; Rushing ; Page 9 usually, their mom and daddies played with each other when they were kids, see. Even though there was this Jim Crow junk going on E: A divide, yeah. R: People seemed to get along bet ter. E: There was still harmony here in Indianola. R: E: R: Yeah, and I was there when they integrated t have a problem with it. I mean, we kind of got talked to by family we remember the last graduating class in Indianola High School. But we I remember Mama and Daddy calling us in and sayi going on something happens, just get out of the way, which is what we did. You G reat G randma and them talking about politics, cussing like I grew up in a liberal environment things just affected me different, I guess.

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M FP 041 ; Rushing ; Page 10 E: Do you have any close friends who were involved in the Freedom Summer or the movement that you still talk to today? R : I have a few friends who are older than me that got involved in the one of them was a very, very good friend, but I was about four years older than me and I go t to be his brother was closer to my age and lived in Inverness. I guess he played a big role, happening. Mississ through very much. But some of the older people kind of played a role in helping me. Plus Bob Dylan, back when he was . E: Yeah. How do you think Sunflower County compares to other Southern counties as far as brutality and racism and stuff like that go es? As far as R: Well, Indianola Sunflower County was one of the focus point of the civil rights movement nationwide. I mean, it was where Jim Eastland was from. in the nation that represented Jim Crow segregation, Senator Jim

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M FP 041 ; Rushing ; Page 11 Eastland, who was from Sunflower County U.S. senator. Have you read about him? E: Hm mm. R: Okay, well, he was president pro tem of the Senate and on the judiciary committee as an extremely, ext remely right wing Jim Crow segregationist. reason, Sunflower County and plus, it being the birthplace of the Citizens a whole, because back in the early days of KKK as being formed, the planners the KKK would run off the labor. So, there was an active movement in the Delta to keep the KKK out. So we never had I mean, we had st uff happen, violent stuff. In fact, if you read that book I told you about, Todd Moye is his name T o d d M o y e, just came back to me the White Citizens mostly political and economic retribution. They would go get you fired from your jobs and stuff like that. E: They kind of worked from far above. R: there, we never had anything si gnificantly serious happen here during the [19]60s. I mean, you had some people beat up, stuff like that and of

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M FP 041 ; Rushing ; Page 12 [Laughter] E: Just kind of comparing Sunflower County to the other counties. I really R: It was bad, but it was bad in a different way. The feelings were the same, I mean, Indianola has always been sixty or seventy percent black, the county. It was so important, the la bor force, they did not want to run anybody off. But they wanted to keep everybody under control. Now, if you go in other parts of Mississippi, up in the hills and stuff, it was a little bit of a different attitude. It was more the mean, raw bone redneck r eaction. E: Right. It sounds like here, it was more of a sophisticated attack : keep them down economically and politically. R: Threaten them, right. E: Right, not so much do the really direct physical type attacks. R: to scare them. The important thing was that the farming economy, which until the [19]60s was so heavily labor dependent, that the key element was not to run off the labor supply. E: Right, so the reason why they acted like that, kind of in an almost nonvi olent way, you would say, is because they really needed the African American labor in the area.

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M FP 041 ; Rushing ; Page 13 R: E: Oh, certainly, yeah. R: always there. There was economic threats against white people who kind of wanted to take a middle road. A lot of people just kept their mouths E: Did you ever feel scared or frightened for your livelihood? Ju st taking your stance? R: Not then. You know, I never did, because I was in a situation where E: It was a bit later. R: Well, first off, it was a bit later, but there were times when the newspaper pulling ads and s tuff like that. But I worked for a man who was pretty much immune to that kind of stuff. write what I thoug ht I needed to write. E: R: Plus, I had a cousin ow. She was a big time academic a good bit older than me. I asked her one shot yet? [Laughter] She said, because they think you got a black book somewhere in a safe deposit box, because you know everything on everybody. [Laughter]

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M FP 041 ; Rushing ; Page 14 E: Yeah. R: But . you k now. E: Who do you think was mostly reading your newspaper? What demographic did you guys really write for? R: E: White, black, everybody? R: Everybody read it. There would be times when ca rs would be lined up in front of the newspaper office. It was a very effective newspaper. E: Very popular, it sounds. R: sell papers, but . it was a very progressive E: Paper? R: It still is, but it changed ownership. E: R: Enterprise Tocsin. E: R: T o c s i n. E: Okay. When did it change ownership? R: About a year ago. E: Oh, okay. R: See, I retired two years ago E: Right, I rememb er.

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M FP 041 ; Rushing ; Page 15 R: When they switched hands, they asked me to come back and I came working with people where I can ma ke up my own mind and not have to worry about sending things upstairs. E: I t sounds very independent. R: But the . it was rough. You know, there were times I got calls at night, people calling me up, cussing me out. E: Still? R: Well, it was. Not anymore, no. E: Oh, yeah. R: and into a popularity contest. E: So you definitely had a lot of kind of negative backlash. R: Oh, yeah. Yeah, easy. E: But you never really felt threatened for your safety? It was just more kind of like an irritation, a common irritation. R: Yeah, you know. People calling you names, stuff like that; which is fine, because I call them back. E: Good, yeah. [Laughter] R: . but the thing is, is that the more I saw what was going on and the more I dug into it, the more I realized that what was going on here was so significant. I mean, even though it was just a small part of the United

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M FP 041 ; Rushing ; Page 16 States, it was significant because these p eople came in here and they were risking their lives. E: Certainly. R: Thank God nothing happened here. But these people came in here and E: R: Or struggle, y ou know. To this day, some of these people you ought to be interviewing that wonderful old man, we bump heads all the times but we love each other. But he paid his price as a schoolteacher. Charles McLaurin, which E: R: But he always stayed in meet th E: Oh, certainly. R: Because he was from Mississippi and he brought these Yankees down anything they were beatniks. E: R: Some of them are senators and judges and such, but would paper?

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M FP 041 ; Rushing ; Page 17 E: to if you w ant to refer us to him. R: and he was a very brave man. E: If you want to mind doing that, but I can R: ___ ____ E: Area code 662, correct? R: Same number, same area code. Now E: I b R: A b b o t s book. E: I have it written down right here, circled. R: Now, ther Editor and P ublisher magazine, and I cannot remember the date of it or even the title, but it was done about th ree years ago about the role Indianola newspapers played in the boycott. E: Oh, wow. R: I wish I could recall th weeklies in Mississippi that made a difference, and used it as an example pretty good background, too. But you read like

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M FP 041 ; Rushing ; Page 18 E: Yeah. R: I mean, I remember going to mass meetings with Jesse Jackson here in little old Indianola, and it was so tense, so tense. The children of the older power structure kind of knew that something had to give. You know? internal struggle among a lot of the older families here. Not mine, I mean, my daddy would tease me, kind of j ab me about it sometimes, but he always left me alone, pretty much, about E: Your beliefs. R: Yeah, and things. But some of these situations got pretty . serious different. So it came ou t for the better. E: since then, since the [19]60s and the fight for civil rights. In your opinion and you, obviously, have been in the midst of it, which is really great where do you think it needs to go? Maybe, just from an Indianola standpoint. I mean, how much farther do you think they have to go and how do you think they need to R: Well, we still have a long way to go; a real long way to go. The only thing we can do right now is t economic differences. When you got any

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M FP 041 ; Rushing ; Page 19 different cultures operating here, basically, even though they share some oing to be tension. So, you have to build these bridges, and slowly but surely E: Interact, come together. R: One of my favorite Mississippi historians, Dr. David Samson, once said something that he might have got somewhere else, but he said, everybody wa true. E: R: Change has got to happen, particularly in this situation I I E: R: tion; the economy is bad. Primary source of income has always been government transfer funds, and you still go this divide between some sections of the black think before they do or say. E:

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M FP 041 ; Rushing ; Page 20 R: E: Yeah. R: So, what else? E: ? R: E: Over here. R: Getting this stuff down, because once some of these folks are gone E: R: to Charles back when they had a Freedom Summer reunion here, come to think of it. E: R: Yeah, so. St. Augustine has civil rig hts activists, in St. Augustine and the Mississippi Delta. E: Yeah. R: Either way, what else you need to know? E: R: So, what are you going to get your degree in? E: doing history. I want to go to grad school and eventually become a professor. R: Where are you going to grad school? E:

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M FP 041 ; Rushing ; Page 21 R: Ole Miss. E: Washington, NYU and Colu mbia, UT Austin, so, really all over America. I R: Well, I know some who have. E: Yeah. I do as well, actually. I know a guy at the Ole Miss law school now who just graduated from UF, but . R: Who is he? E: Jordan Robinson. R: E: Yeah. R: See, right after the boycott, which was very it was very difficult on me to see all my friends fighting each other and fight ing and shouting and threatening. So, I went to Oxford and worked for the newspaper there for about and went ahead and got my degree. I went straight into the newspaper business out of junior college, so I was at Oxford, like, fifteen years and then I came back. I mean, I just had t o get away. I had to do Thessaloni c thing of taking the self were so hard among some groups. E: Being caught in the middle of that, I can imagine.

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M FP 041 ; Rushing ; Page 22 R: You know, I love them. I grew up with them. I just had to get away, and I stayed away about fifteen years, then came back. But . that was a whole nother story. When that thing it was over, it was so great. The whole town just took this deep breath, sigh; I mean, we survived. There was thi s really strong push, which is still evident, about people getting along and trying to work together better. So, we learned a lot. E: Yeah, definitely. Well, all right. R: Okay. [End of interview] Transcribed by: Diana Dombrowski, October 2013 Audit e dite d by: Sarah Blanc, November 2013 Final edited by: Diana Dombrowski, March 5, 2014