Interview with Margaret Block, March 20, 2011

Material Information

Interview with Margaret Block, March 20, 2011
Block, Margaret ( Interviewee )
Weston, Marna ( Interviewer )
Mississippi Freedom Project (MFP)
Publication Date:
Physical Description:
Oral history interview


Subjects / Keywords:
African Americans ( fast )
Mississippi Delta Freedom Project ( local )
Civil rights movements ( fast )
Ex convicts -- Suffrage
Oral histories ( lcgft )
Temporal Coverage:
1960 - 2011
Spatial Coverage:
United States of America -- Mississippi -- Sunflower County


Margaret Block talks with Marna Weston about restoration of felon's voting priveleges, violent encounters with segregrationists in the 1960s, relations between SNCC workers and support from outside groups during the civil rights movement in Mississippi. People mentioned include: Sam Block, Louie Block, Amzie Moore, Medgar Evans, Aaron Henry, Thurgood Marshall, Septima Clark, Ella Baker, Fannie Lou Hamer, Lois Rodgers, Hartman Turnbow, Janie Brewer, Essie Mae Brewer, Ed Brown, Gwen Gillman, Tina Lowndes, Viola Luizzo, Dick Gregory, Ivanhoe Donaldson, Stokely Carmichael and Haley Barbour. Locations include Leland, Clarksdale, Cleveland, Mound Bayou, Ruleville, Skene, and Greenwood, Mississippi. Organizations named are National Council of Negro Women, Mississippi Justice Center, Federal Compress, SNCC, Ku Klux Klan, United Nations.

Record Information

Source Institution:
University of Florida Samuel Proctor Oral History Program
Holding Location:
University of Florida Samuel Proctor Oral History Program
Rights Management:
All rights reserved by the submitter.
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MFP 006B Interviewee: Margaret Block Interviewer: Marna Weston Date: March 20, 2011 W: This is Marna Weston in Cleveland, Mississippi for the Sam Proctor Oral History Program at the Sam Block, Junior Civil Rights Foundation speaking with SNCC veteran and H all of F ame activist Margaret Block. Thank you very much for speaking with me today, Margaret. B: W: association with you and you know, finding out about your definition of leadership and you talking to us about the struggle. We really appreciate this opportunity. B: W: Could you talk a little bit about your level of current activism? What are you currently doing in the community here in Cleveland? B: against the housing, with fair housing and fair rent for people over there in this community called Eastgate, which was built by the National Council of Negro Women with the int entions on people owning their o w n homes. But, some people in Leland, white people, took over, and they raised so I worked with them. Along with I got the Mississippi Justice Center to come up here W: Definitely. B: the schools, against compiled or concurred wi th anything that the Justice Departm ent told them to do. So,


MFP 006B; Block; Page 2 because I found out t hey have catered lunch they catered their dinners before the school board meetings, which I thought was a dinner before they have the board meeting, and then the taxpayers are paying for the catered di get you know W: Well, the young people that work with our program are always so impressed when they get a work harder to uncover the to be involved in so many activities on behalf of others? B: Well, I guess I was born t the type of person who thinks that injustice in any form to try to do something about it. i us ignorant and they need to get an education. Then, o n the other hand, we need to get an public schools to educate them, especially when it comes to their own history. My brother was, you know, an icon in the civil rights movement. The kids over at Eastside had never heard of him, and he graduated from Eastside. But, when they had the Hall of Fame, they in their H all of F well, what But we got to start teaching our own children our own history.


MFP 006B; Block; Page 3 W: With so much information available to people through the internet and through civil rights websites, and also through the many museums and foundations that are out there, why do you think so many young people are unaware of the contributions of persons like Sam Block or, even yourself, featured today in the local newspaper? B: t teaching it in the schools. Parents, you know, most of these parents make it from day to are learning in history, they just miss it as just something that they got to take. They the math and science W: [Laughter] What do you think of the greatest needs f or this community? B: We need decent housing, we nee d they did their time, so why are they going to be punished for the rest of their life? They should not hold that against you for the res when I talk about it, too.


MFP 006B; Block; Page 4 W: So you believe in the automatic restoration of civil rights for a person immediately when they finish their sentence? B: Yeah. If you sentence me to fifteen years, if I do my fifteen years, that should be the end of it. Now, w hy you got to make me be disenfranchised for the rest of my life because I made a mistake and went to jail? W: Now, s ome people do y ou such as the right to vote, re stored once they finish a sentence? B: you know th Mr. James Crow. They got a way to keep you from voting still, and to keep you from getting educated. men educated, either. W: So you feel that education, in addition to rehabilitation, would be a way to decrease crime, increase civil responsibility? B: It would be a way to crime, but it would be a way to do were felons, which was bad. They going to make it worse on these I keep telling these youngsters, they going to make it worse on yo the day going costs. They still trying to avoid it.


MFP 006B; Block; Page 5 W: What is it term views that you have? I thought that that was really very interesting, how you pointed out, this is why the past and how it connects to the future. What has shaped those views? B: on me, and so did my parents, because my father led a strike against the National Compress in 1947, and that was something I mean, a black man, my Uncle Louie and my daddy, Sam Block Senior, they led a safety strike at the Federal Compress. So we had always white folks black folks. They would stand up. I guess that was instilled in us, to stand up for your own self. W: you also talked about a leader in Clarksdale. B: Medgar Evers. W: that B: Not Medgar. Dr. Henry. W: Yes, Dr. Aaron Henry. Why do you think that something like that is important, and why would you say to someone listening to this interview as to why it would be important to restore Aaron B: what, and that house, important cent er, because nobody had anywhere to go but came to town. Like when Thurgood Marshall came to town, he was in Mound Bayou


MFP 006B; Block; Page 6 came. Ella Baker came to that house. Miss Septima Clark, great people came to that planning Henry was significant enough for somebody to do something and restore that house and need to preserve our own history. W: You knew Fannie Lou Hamer personally. What was it about her that inspired you? B: Well, I guess her singing, and then the way she spoke, and she was way older than us, so re going to do what we were going to do. Because, at the time when I was in the movement, it was three women, that was Fannie Lou Hamer in Ruleville, and Lois Rodgers in Cleveland and myself, we were the only three women in the movement in [19]62 well, it was [19]62 and [19]63. M r s. Hamer, I admired he r, the way she just left off of that done was to let her vote and ke p t her on that plantation, because she came off of that plantation and brough t the Ms. Hamer talked about me one time, me and I think that was Unita, and Mr. Hartman Turnbow, who was from Holmes County, Mississippi. We were at a meeting, and Mr. Turnbow told us, what we got


MFP 006B; Block; Page 7 W: Well, now, you were noted as a veteran of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee. Are you suggesting there was some tension between those that believed in nonviolent resistance and those that believed in something else? B: No, not at all. There was no because the were thinking or planning. But no, there was no tension, not at all. W: How about personal tension? Did you feel committed to the nonviolent struggle, or were o be nonviolent? B: I felt like that, because if I believed in an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth, you hit you going to be nonviolent and let them kill me? Mm hm, t Those people nonviolen t when they came out there in Glendora, out on Sharkey Road to shoot us up. If we had not shot at them, they would have probably tried to bomb us or do anything to us. W: Could you tell that story? Because there was also an eighty year old lady who you sai d inspired you, and there was kind of an interesting anecdote about what happened on Sharkey Road. B: e talking about M s. Brewer. Ms. Janie Brewer? Well, when I first went out there, I was the first person out there. I was working all by mys elf. So, one day I came hom e, Mrs. Brewer asked me, what does SNCC mean? I told her, the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee. She pulled that big old rifle from behind her chair in there, now.


MFP 006B; Block; Page 8 [Laughter] But then, the night of the shootout, they were making Molotov cocktails, and M s. Brewer was in the kitchen, too, trying to pour the gas in the bottles. Her hands were shaking and she was wasting g [Laughter] Ed Brown was looking at me, and he says, do you know if she ha d swore the Klan killed us, burned us out, and it would have been Mr. Brewer wasting all this gas up in here. W: [Laughter] So what happened wi th the shooting? B: Oh, we shot at them first. We had some people, our farmers, all in the field with spotlights. When they got almost to where they were coming to our house, this lady ut of the field and put a huge spotlight on them and blinded them. We shot up in the air. They took off, they almost ran into each other trying to back up out of that place. W: Now, these were people that originally had been chasing you? B: Yeah. W: But th continuing the chase. B: W: [Laughter] Do you feel that those kind of su r prises were warranted? B: Y W: And, of course, no one was hurt. B: No one was hurt. We shot s h oot, because my job was to bring the Molotov cocktails around the house, a nd we were going to me and Gwen Gillman I thinking this lady named Tina Lo w ndes we were going to and M s. Brewer we were


MFP 006B; Block; Page 9 going to and Ed Brown we had our positions, we were going to light the thing and at, because when we shot at them, they ran out, and we found out then that they were cowards. W: You recently have come back from Selma and been awarded a Spirit Award as a Keeper of the Flame. Could you talk about that experience, going to Selma? B: It w as cold. And rainy. But it was okay, because I felt good about getting an award and finally being recognized f or nothing, because you do what you do what you in the name of whatever it is that you because I always get awards, lik e from Mississippi Valley State and from wherever ; y ou know, University of Arkansas, all over. But that award was special becau se of what happened that Sunday. W e were commemorating Bloody Sunday, where they marched across the bridge on March 7 and got beat really, really bad. Duri ng that march, Mrs. Viola Luizzo who was transporting people back and forth, got killed. So her daughte r was there, and I think they received she got an award on behalf of her mom, and to be on the same p rogram with her, with Dick Greg ory, because he did his share for us in the ere because the white people had, people used to get commodities when they couldn't work in the wintertime. The government would give commodities, and they decided to stop giving the farmworkers and people commodities, so Sam, my brother, cal led Dick Gregory, and Dick Gre gory would send tons of food down here every month. W: Let me be sure I understand what you're saying. You're saying the federal government had a food program, but the local authorities cancelled it.


MFP 006B; Block; Page 10 B: Yeah. W: As retaliation against people in the movement? B: Yeah. Against people trying to register to vote, to go beyond, just anything they were doing. So they cut the program, which they couldn't do, because it was a fed eral food program. But Dick Gre gory fixed them. He just started bringing all ki nds of food. People had never ta sted any Velveeta cheese until I mean, he sent stuff down here, it was good food. I remember one day, we had taken some food out to some old people that lived somewhere out in the country, almost out to Skene They were sitt ing up there, just sitting around so hungry. When Lois and I got out of that car with all of that food, the old man started crying. He said he was so hungry, they didn't know what they was going to do. But then we just started taking them food out there. E very time we'd go to Greenwood and pick up a shipment of food, we'd take it out there. That's how we fed them in the wintertim e, by taking food from Dick Gre gory and people from the North that sent down here like Ivanhoe Donaldson. We would take food out t o different people all around in different areas, and that's how they ate. They ate better that winter than they ever ate, because we had whole, nutritious foods, I mean food in there. It wasn't the hogs or whatever they were getting, the government cheese and government beans, whatever that stuff was they had in that tin. Mama called it dog food, that meat. She used to give that meat to our dog, Butch. W: Are you talking about spam? B: Oh, no. It wasn't spam, it was like pulled pork or something, it was all packed down in a can. Yeah, and she used to feed Butch that stuff.


MFP 006B; Block; Page 11 W: This is such an important story. Why do you think we have to, in 2011, come to Cleveland find Margaret Block to hear this story? Why isn't this in the textbooks? Why aren't more peo ple already aware of this history? B: I don't know. Li ke I said, who's writing the textbooks? Like I said, you got to look at who's writing the textbooks, the people in Texas, which is outrageous. I had no idea, but I consider myself, just did what I was supposed to do. Ain't no heroics or nothing about it. Nothing, it's just what -anybody, I know people didn't do it, but I felt like I would be feeling like some of these people feel now, hating on me cause of it. You know, they're trying to be smart and ha te on, make little smart comments because I got how come you got it? I'm going, well, where were you? Why didn't you get it? You know, crazy stuff like that. How come they gave it to you, when I met with the, who were they? Oh, the U.N. The High Commission ers for Human Rights, the first thing Simmons asked me, why come they talk to you? I said, well, I guess they didn't figure you were significant enough for them to talk to. W: So, the years of activism that you're involved in isn't considered sufficient r eason that you would be a contact, and you might have met somebody prior, or something like that. B: I don't think so. I don't know. I just try to mind my business. Anyway, I was so devastated and traumatized when I first left Mississippi, my children did n't even know about -my oldest daughter did, but my other two, they be reading now, go, Ma, how come you didn't tell me this? I'm going, cause I've tried to put it behind me, especially how I was treated by SNCC, the Howard Mafia. That's what we called Sto kely and, I mean, people that come down from Howard. They came down and took over, so we call


MFP 006B; Block; Page 12 them to Howard Mafia. Besides getting ran and threatened and all that stuff, I just tried to forget about it. W: So many people do look at you as a leader, not o nly in this community, but in all the communities that you've lived in. I'm curious, with people saying that, do you believe you are a leader? And what is your definition of leadership? B: I'm not a leader. Somebody try to follow me, they're going to be i n bigtime trouble. [Laughter] I don't consider myself a leader. I'm outspoken, and if I see something wrong, I'm going to say something about it, because that's my nature. You can't sit up and see something wrong and not do anything about it, but c onsider myself a leader. I'm just a citizen that's doing what you're supposed to do, is being a citizen. W: Well, I appreciate you taking just a few minutes to speak with me. On behalf of our program, we appreciate you, as always. That concludes the inte rview from my point of view, except that I like to finish the interview with giving the person who's giving me their time the opportunity to make any kind of closing comments. So, if there's a thought on your mind or maybe something we didn't talk about, o r you want to promote some thought with us, when you finish those comments, that'll conclude the interview. B: Well, I'm interested in what's going to happen now with the Freedom Riders, because everybody think they coming to Mississippi, but they're not. I'm interested now, I'm trying to work and see, what can I do to make these people see that Hank Thomas does not constitute the whole Freedom Ride, all of the Freedom Riders? He's selling out and he's going to Jackson. Then, that's why I don't want to be bothered with the veterans, because I don't want to talk to them at this time. They letting old Haley Barbour dupe them into giving them a reception at the governor's mansion. Some of them call


MFP 006B; Block; Page 13 themselves, like the Chairperson of the Veteran's Movement, no w, she wasn't no Veteran. How you going to lead me and I'm the one that had to teach you some Freedom Songs? If she was in SNCC, she would have known about the Freedom Songs. That's the first thing you learn, was singing the Freedom Songs. So I just I don't know, but I'm going to send them a letter of my discontent, and tell them. I'm going to Georgia State, I guess, and I can't do all that traveling, like be down there and then go to Georgia State on the 26, that'll be too much on me. But, let them d o what they may, what they want to do. We got people like C.T., Vivian, and Diane, and they older than me, so we really need to get their stories and get them to make it very clear how they feel about Mississippi. They already did, but I think the last tim e I heard from them, they're going to be on Oprah Winfrey's show, which is, you know, going to be a good thing if she does a show on the Freedom Riders. Yeah, you can cut that off, I can tell you about this play that I went to Delta State to see. [End of i nterview] Transcribed by: Diana Dombrowski, September 2013 Auidt Edited by: Sarah Blanc