Interview with Thelma Collins, September 12, 2008

Material Information

Interview with Thelma Collins, September 12, 2008
Collins, Thelma ( 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 )
Oral histories ( lcgft )
Spatial Coverage:
United States of America -- Mississippi


Scope and Content:
Thelma Collins, mayor of Itta Bena, Mississippi, talks about her experiences during segregation and the challenges of public office at the Sunflower County Civil Rights Organization 4th year reunion in Indianola, Mississippi, September 2008. People mentioned include Stokely Carmichael, B.B. King, and Sheriel Perkins; locations include Itta Bena and Greenwood, Mississippi.

Record Information

Source Institution:
UF Samuel Proctor Oral History Program
Holding Location:
UF Samuel Proctor Oral History Program
Rights Management:
Made available under a Creative Commons Attribution Non-Commercial 4.0 International license:
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Full Text


MFP 019 Interviewee: Thelma Collins Interviewer: Marna Weston Date of Interview: September 12, 2008 Unidentified male: Who got the camera? Well, I got a picture of Mayor Perkins, Mayor Collins, and Mayor Brown in a picture that was in the Clarion Ledger I believe, back some time ago. I, unfortunately, left it at home. I was planning to have them autogr these, and I have Mayor Hudson, too, so I have the complete package. Have you finished? C: No. Unidentified male: No. fourths of a winning ticket right there. [Laughter] Unidentified Thank you. [Applause] C: Well, good evening. Unidentified male: Oh, there was also a part about [inaudible 01:05] Unidentified female: See what happens when you interrupt the program? Everyth ing just [Laughter] Unidentified female II: This happens, stay for a while. Unidentified male: During the Civil Rights days, there was so much chaos among the SNCC people, all we did was a good job in the end. [Laughter] There was a lot of chaos when we we re together. Stokely Carmichael and all those people, you had all of these philosophies and everything hidden


MFP 0 19 ; Collins ; Page 2 together there, and then we volunteers discouraged. C: All right. Again, good evening, everybody. Audience: Go od evening. C: I am so honored to have been invited, because I know without a doubt that know and even though maybe some of you did not see the video at the museum but as B.B. King was riding on his way to Berclair ike Mayor Perkins, I get emotional when I think about how far we have come. I want to share with you to let you know how far we have come in Itta Bena. I grew up there. As a little girl and I want to share this story with you so you will know why the tears are coming. As a little girl, growing up in that small municipality, one day my sister and I decided that we were going to go across the track. world. Well, my sister and I decided tha t we were going to go across the track and look at the beautiful Christmas decorations. Of course, you know oh, Chris tmas decorations on the other side of town. Well, by the time we got over there and kind of toured around and got back across the railroad


MFP 0 19 ; Collins ; Page 3 track, back to our side of town, the police officer stopped us. He said very harshly, what are you all doing across t catch you across there again. And when I think of that situation and I say to myself, you know, womb that I would be the m ayor of that entire city. [Applause] C: To go anywhere I wanted to go. Just the thought of it. It just touches my but only Go d knew that, my position that you will either be over the police department. So I thank God for you as trailblazers, because if it had not been for the hardships and the people dyin g for us to have this opportunity, we would not be here today. We have made much progress in the city of Itta Bena. And, of course, as the first African American and, certainly, the first female, I have had a challenge. When I first decided and really, I d municipality. My goal, my plan, was to get out of there. I said, as I grew up, I know the only way that I could ever get out of this small place, so depressed, so much poverty, is to get an education. When all of my friends went off to college to Jackson State, T o ugaloo and all the others,


MFP 0 19 ; Collins ; Page 4 money. So I stayed in Itta Bena, finished a t Mississippi Valley State Well, as I again, I thought for sure that to get an education was my ticket out of Itta Bena. Well, my plan was to move away, get some relief of the oppre ssion there. But, believe it or not, after getting that education, nothing seemed to happen. I sent applications everywhere, got interviews, but something always kept me there. It was almost like a magnet. So I n the Greenwood city system, and so I did. Those two years turned to thirty four years of staying in Greenwood in the city system. [Laughter] And, of course, I retired, came out of retirement because I could not take it, came up, and went back in and taugh t two more years, a total of thirty six years that I taught in the school system. But, during that time, every time I would be on my way back into the city of Itta Bena, that yearning spirit would just take over. I promise you, I had no idea of even trying to become the mayor; had never thought of it, because it wa s not in the cards. I knew that, as an African American, there was no way that I was going to be the mayor of this city. But every time I would be on my way home, it just got into my spirit. on, I decided before I tell you that, this was the third year that the current mayor had been in office. He was getting ready to go into his fourth and final year. All of the sudden, he de cided that he was going to move out of the city limits and I said to myself, oh, my God, you have been toying with


MFP 0 19 ; Collins ; Page 5 me. This must be my time. So I walked down to the place to get my to City Hall to get my papers and qualify, and I ran that last year, that l ast term, won, and decided to re run for election. Of course, I did, won four more years, [19]96 2000. In 2000, I ran, and that was too much for the get someone of the other color, be cause they had never had a black person before, and we were making so many changes. Little did I at that time, I said I will not challenge, because they said I lost by ten votes. The scripture that kept coming to my mind, all things work together for the good of those who love the Lord, and so I said, no, I will not challenge this, because there is a purpose behind me not going in this time. So I waited those four years, and in 2005, I ran again and won by a landslide. I tell alking about things being in disarray, but Hall. We have a beautiful community center that was erected the fir st year I was in office. Our finances have improved tremendously. When I first got in, our industrial park was still vacant land. We do have several businesses there on that property. We are making progress; Mississippi Valley State University is there rig and of course, we are a partnership with them. Of course, we are using many of the resources that they have. Things are looking up for the city of d


MFP 0 19 ; Collins ; Page 6 much better. One of my challenges is getting the total community together, going into the other churches, the whi te predominantly white churches, Because once I came in office, we had a white flight. Everybody went their separate ways and we have not been able to bring that community together, b Christ, who strengthens me. Thank you all so much for inviting me. [Applause] [End of interview] Transcribed by: Diana Dombrowski, August 2013 Audit Edited by: Sarah Blanc, September 2, 2013 F inal edited by: Diana Dombrowski, November 5, 2013

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