Interview with Valerie Simpson, August 21, 2009

Material Information

Interview with Valerie Simpson, August 21, 2009
Simpson, Valerie ( Interviewee )
Clarke, Khambria ( Interviewer )
Ellis, Candice ( 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 )
African American educators
Oral histories ( lcgft )
Temporal Coverage:
1964 - 2009
Spatial Coverage:
United States of America -- Mississippi


Simpson shares experiences teaching in the Delta, and with segregation. People mentioned include: Annie Richardson, Fannie Lou Hamer and James Oliver Eastland, Locations include: Indianola and Moorhead, Mississippi. Organizations: B.B. King Museum, Harlem Children’s Zone, Sunflower County Freedom Project.

Record Information

Source Institution:
UF Samuel Proctor Oral History Program
Holding Location:
UF Samuel Proctor Oral History Program
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Made available under a Creative Commons Attribution Non-Commercial 4.0 International license:
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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 or call the Samuel Proctor Oral History Program office at 352 392 7168. October 2013


MFP 051 Interviewee: Valerie Simpson Interviewer: Khambria Clarke and Candice Ellis Date: August 21, 2009 C: All right. Today is August 21, 2009, and we are here with S: Valerie Simpson. C: And I'm Khambria Clarke E: And I'm Candice Ellis conducting a joint interview. C: All righty. Can you start by telling us a little bit about your background, your childh ood? S: Well, I born and raised here in Indianola. I was born in [19]64, two parents. My mother and father were both educators. I had two brothers, who basically . I don't know what else you want to know. C: Well, you said you were born in [19]64. Of c ourse, you were born just when all the Freedom Summer stuff was happening, but what have your parents told you of those activities ? S: Well, they told me my mother and father both participated in the civil rights movement through my church, St. Benedict th e Moor Catholic Church. My church was active. That's where a lot of meetings were held, at that center, St. Benedict's Center. My mother and my father's deceased right now well, my mother and father actually told me, that's one of the reasons why, when the y got married, they joined the Cathol ic church, because their priest there, Father Walter, was very influential in a lot of things that happened in Indianola. They were impressed by that, especially my father, so that's one of the reasons they because my m other was born Baptist, and when they got married, they both joined the church together. So, basically, my mother, she told me a lot about it


MFP 051; Simpson; Page 2 and she may be coming up here, Annie Richardson, about going to register to vote and how she felt about registerin g to vote, because she had more education than some of the people who were giving her the literacy test. I think my mother's not from the Delta, she's from South Mississippi. She always talks about when she first came to Indianola and how everything was so different for her because her parents owned land and farmed their land and had businesses, and when she came here to the Delta, everything was just completely the opposite. It was more segregated, and she just couldn't believe when she came, she came on a Sunday. She saw people sharecropping or not sharecropping, but picking cotton on Sunday because they picked cotton year round, especially during cotton picking season. Just the mindset, and how people just . I don't know. I don't know how to say it, j ust how segregation . I remember her going to, it was Dead Pea Soups and trying to get something to eat, and how she could not. They flagged her away to say that they didn't serve blacks, and those are the type of things that she told me about, told us my brothers and I, about when we were growing up. She still tells my children about it, because they're very close, and she likes to make sure that they understand their background. E: When did your mom come to Indianola and why did she move? S: Let's se e. She just celebrated her fiftieth anniversary of graduating from college, so I guess she graduated in [19]59. She may have gone to Chicago or something for a year, so, in the early [19]60s; [19]59, [19]60, [19]61 at the latest, is when she moved to the D elta from South Mississippi.


MFP 051; Simpson; Page 3 C: I know you mentioned that your mom told you of some of the prejudice that she was a victim of. Were you exposed to any of that prejudice growing up? S: Growing up . I guess, yeah. Because I'm Catholic, and I remember one time vividly I was active in Girl Scouts, and I guess I was going to the ninth or tenth grade. You know how you go on these camps. I was in Kansas, living with a family, before and after a camp I was participating in. We were talking, and I made the state ment that our waiting room in our doctor's office was segregated. They couldn't believe it. It stuck with me. But that was in the [19]70s, and I guess I just never thought about the fact that that was a hangover that was always there. I always remember in the white waiti ng room for the doctor's office, t hey had television and we didn't have a television in the black waiting room. That always, you know . stuck with me. So that's something that held over, even in my childhood. I know that there was a big push in our church. We used to try because we still have white Catholic Church and a black Catholic C hurch, even though we're a small community. Neither church wants to give up their identity, so we are still separable. We come together for certain things but when I first moved home and I'm very active in my church this always used to bother me. I don't know if either of you are Catholic or if you've ever been to a Catholic church . I guess I was in my early twenties. No, I may have been in my thirtie s. I used to serve as Eucharistic minister. You know, Eucharistic minister serves the wine from the chalice. I'd just be standing there, holding that cup, because very few whites would come up and drink behind me. But that's not in my childhood, that's in my adulthood. From my childhood, I remember the waiting rooms. But I


MFP 051; Simpson; Page 4 didn't have much contact with many whites in my childhood, because the public schools are predominantly black. We had one school that used to be K 8, and the whites who could not afford t o go to private school would go to the public school because of the way our school district was aligned, from the kindergarten to eighth grade year. Then, their parents would go ahead and send them to the academy for the ninth year, before they would have to go to high school. I never had much contact with anyone through my church, through school; the only thing I had, a few friends through the church, but that was it. C: So when would your first kind of, like, mass exposure to white people occurred? S: Wel l, I mean, I'd always been exposed, but there was no relationship where I would just . like the relationships I have now, with those that I work with, there was no daily contact, you know? I never even at the doctor's office, I never experienced any ra cism with my doctor, even though I was coming from one waiting room and his other patients were coming from another. I never felt racism from my doctor, from any of his nurses or anyone like that, so . or, from anyone in the church. I don't know if it was because I was oblivious to it or what, but I just never felt that I experienced it. I think I may have just been oblivious, to be honest. E: So you graduated high school and then went on to S: I went to Alcorn, to a majority black institution. I went to USM and got my certification, and then went to Delta State, which is here in the Delta, also. I got my master's degree.


MFP 051; Simpson; Page 5 E: Through your higher education, did you witness a lot of segregation or racism at the schools? S: At Delta State . no. E: No, yeah. S: No, not really. I guess I say that because I used to work there, also, and I just don't see my colleagues that work there as because a lot of them are not from the area. It's just like the typical college. E: College kids. S: Yeah, your college ki ds, and professors most of the professors are not from the area there. They're coming in to where they can find a job after they finish their degree. So, it's like a world within itself sometimes. E: Yeah. It's like people from all over the place, so, yeah S: Mm hm. C: So you said that you were kind of oblivious to the things that may have been occurring around you. S: Mm hm. C: When you do hear of some of the things that occurred, how did that make you feel, that you were kind of like right in the center of a lot of stuff but kind of not aware that some of it was going on? S: I don't know. I guess I just chalk it up to my sheltered childhood. I don't think of it one way or the other. Now, I tell you, I've been reading a lot because of my work with voluntee ring at the B.B. King Museum. I guess I just see a lot of things falling into place, as to why things occurred the way they were. I remember and


MFP 051; Simpson; Page 6 I do remember once, when I first started working at Lockard that school I was telling you used to be all the s chool where the whites went? I was the assistant principal, and I was the first black administrator there. I was working with a difficult child whose mentor, at the time, was . from one of the prestigious families in Indianola. I was trying to talk to him about this is, what? Three, six years ago? Six or seven years ago. I was trying to talk to him about the problems that we were having with the boy, because he's his mentor, and he turned around and asked me if I was the bus driver. He knew who I was. A nd to this very day, I don't even speak to him. You know? So, I see him sometimes, trying to turn around. I think a lot of the whites in Indianola, I think, are trying to make an effort, because Indianola's not going to grow unless we get over those issues E: Mm hm. S: But I don't have anything for him since he called me the bus driver. E: That's ridiculous. S: He knew who I was. He knew I was not the bus driver. E: That's not S: Because he had a smirk on his face when he said it. E: That's just ridiculou s. S: Yep. Most people are not like that anymore. E: You haven't encountered anything like that, too bad, recently? S: Not recently, no. That was six years ago, six or seven years ago, when I first came back to public education. E: Mm hm, yeah. So, maybe t here's a redemption, hopefully? Eventually.


MFP 051; Simpson; Page 7 S: Yeah. There's redemption for him, just not to me. C: So, you said that was when you came back. Where were you before S: When I came back to public education, I used to work at Delta State in higher ed. C: Oka y, so. S: When I tired of being broke, I came back to start working in administration. E: What exactly do you do? S: I'm a principal now E: Principal, all right. S: At the high school that used to be . see, it used to be the Indianola High School, bef ore integration. It's now Pennington Junior High School. So, that's where I work now. E: So, as a principal and an educator, would you say that obviously, a lot of progress has been made, but there still is progress to be made. Would you say that education is one of the most important, pressing things? S: For our kids, it is the most important thing. If they don't get an education, they're just doomed to repeat the cycle that we've seen. I used to say that: a t first, it was the cotton fields, and everybody worked in the cotton fields to make a white man rich. Then, when cotton started dying out, it was catfish, and it was just the same thing; working in the cat fish factories, fileting catfish to make another white man rich. It just continues and continues. I f our children don't get an education, then they'll continue to work in a factory or on a field or doing something, whatever the next catfish or cotton is, to make somebody else rich. So, education is very important.


MFP 051; Simpson; Page 8 E: Mm hm. What do you think a barrier i s, preventing the . S: The community's perception of the value of an education. It's just . that's just it. And the value of that perception that, you know, it's okay I didn't go to college. And that idea of the excuses that are put out there are acceptable. Too many of our children take an excuse as a reason to quit. E: Right. S: Then they become complacent and satisfied with their stations just because somebody didn't like them. E: Right. Is there anything the schools are doing now to try to reve rse that, change that, or does it really boil down to the parents . S: No, I think the schools are making an effort. I just left a meeting at the museum, where the community is trying to duplicate I don't know if you know about the Harlem Children's Z one in New York, of course, but there's grant and there's an initiative right now that this guy that I just finished talking about calling me a bus driver, he's a co chair of, that they're trying to duplicate the work of the Harlem Children's Zone in New Y ork specifically for Indianola. E: What exactly is that? S: It's just an initiative to start working with parents and children at a very young age, and work with them all the way through college, to insure that they get that college education, and provide them with all of the necessary resources, necessary background to insure that they graduate from college. E: Right. S: Not just in the school, but anything, school or outside.


MFP 051; Simpson; Page 9 E: Because there are so many different factors you kind of have to check for to get that education. S: So hopefully . a lot of times, initiatives come and go. E: Right, things kind of phase out, lose popularity . S: The money is spent, or spent in the wrong places, and once the money dries up, the initiative goes away. Hopefu lly this won't happen, but time will tell. C: So you work as an administrator and an educator. What type of integration has the history of this area had in schools? Are kids being taught about history like the civil rights movement in the Delta? S: They're told, but I don't think they're taught enough about our area. One thing I'm trying to do right now, as soon as I can find some money, is to purchase this book. We're teaching Mississippi Studies, that's a required course. One book that I want to use with the kids this year is The Senator and the Sharecropper It's a book about the development of Mississippi, of the Mississippi Delta, and I want to juxtapose it with the history of their textbook. It talks specifically about Fannie Lou Hamer, who grew up in Ruleville. Our girls participate some of them participate in what's called the Fannie Lou Hamer Empowerment Project through the museum. She was very active in the civil rights movement. She went to, I can't remember which Democratic convention, and her fam ous statement was, I'm sick of tired of being sick and tired. She was very instrumental, and it juxtaposes her with Senator Eastland. Very racist, very racist guy. It talks about their life and really shows how they grow up in two different settings. E: Pa rallels yeah.


MFP 051; Simpson; Page 10 S: Uh huh, parallels, and then how their paths cross. I want the kids, not to read the entire book, or to read portions of the book. I think his son, Eastland's son, is on the committee, also, of the Harlem C: Yeah. E: Raising awareness, I think, definitely is an effective means by which you can enhance the importance of education. So, besides the Harlem project, what other direction are you guys taking it in? S: In education? E: Mm hm. S: . well, I think that, in each individual school there are small initiatives that take place; community organizations try and give scholarships to help kids, to encourage kids to go to school and to stay in school. E: Are there any community mobilizations o f any significance that kind of function outsi de of a school but work to increase the importance of education? S: I can't think of one off the top of my head, to be honest. Oh, Sunflower County Freedom Project. I don't know . those, that guy, I don't know how many people work with it, but Greg, I know they have their program; it's outside the school. They work with students, I think, after school and on Saturdays to help to develop them. It's a really good program. It really helps the kids, it helps them to grow. We had a student, because of his wo rk and because of his affiliation with the Sunflower County Freedom Project, he was highlighted on Nickelodeon last year. He was one of my students. They did a piece on children of poverty, and they highlighted two kids. One of them was from Moor head, Miss issippi. He did a


MFP 051; Simpson; Page 11 great job, he really did. I really think it was because of his affiliation with the Freedom Project and Kenyan he is all about exposing himself to broaden his horizons. Part of it is because of his work with Greg. He also did an interns hip at the museum. The B.B. King Museum does a lot. I just turned in some essays because they're trying to do an oral history project, and they target ninth grade. So, we have a strong bond. They're trying to train five ninth graders to do oral history pro jects, and they're going to do oral history projects this year. They also do an initiative with ninth grade girls called the Fannie Lou Hamer Empowerment Project, where they meet with them . maybe five or six Saturdays, and they talk about different th ings, about developing yourself as a young lady and developing who you are. So, those are two initiatives through the museum. E: Yeah, that sounds really great. S: Then they ha ve, somebody who was an education specialist, also has interns. The guy just fin ished talking about King and did an internship at the museum yeah. I don't know if he' s up there this year or not; he probably is. So . E: Well, it's good to hear about stuff like that. C: Yeah, definitely. Like it s good to see that the museum. Y ou kn ow it hasn't been open that long, it's doing so much good. E: Yeah, for the community. S: Mm hm. C: We were here last year on the opening.


MFP 051; Simpson; Page 12 S: Okay, okay. Shawday and Evelyn are doing they're doing a lot. They do a lot and they do a pretty good job. They are doing a great job. They keep our kids busy, our kids at Pennington busy. C: So, if there was and I'm sure you kind of do this on a daily basis when you work in the schools if there was one thing you could tell a young person from this area, and one kin d of, like, key to success, what would you share? S: The first thing, and that I tell the kids all the time, is they have to have a goal. They have to have something that they're working towards on a daily basis. They have to say, this is what I want for m yself when I'm twenty five. They have to keep that in mind, because if they don't, windows, obstacles, or windows, problems, those petty problems, come up if they don't have a goal or anything that they're working towards. That would make it easy for them to just quit and accept what's always been there for them: unemployment. C: Were there any times that you kind of felt like giving up, or you kind of felt like you couldn't continue, or . ? S: The first time. The first time I left public schools and we nt to Delta State to work. I was just frustrated; I used to do a lot of work with students, and it was just draining. So, I took a job working in higher education, and worked there until I just got ready to come back and work with students again. E: Which do you prefer? S: Oh, I prefer what I do now. E: Yeah. S: I love children and I prefer trying to help them, mm hm.


MFP 051; Simpson; Page 13 E: Are a lot of them, do you find, receptive to that help, or are they kind of resistant already? S: Most of them are receptive. Most are rec eptive. E: Receptive, maybe, but just without the goals and everything, easily dissuaded and thrown off course? S: Right, and no one at home to, basically, who realizes that this is important and that they should be planning for that futures, not living fr om day to day. E: Right. S: That's one of the bigger problems, that support. That, to help them have a vision. E: A really strong family base is probably one of the most important, you'd say, to that, yeah. S: Because no matter how much I or anyone else ta lks to a kid about what they can have, if there's nobody at home who's telling them that they deserve it, or that they need to do this to get it, it's very easy for it not to become a reality. E: Is there anything else you'd like to add? S: Don't think so. Can you think of anything? [Laughter] That's me, though E: Yeah, we've got you down. C: Well, it's just been very interesting to get the different takes from different people, because it's like you have when you study it from an outsider point of view, y ou get one side of it. S: Well, once you get all the different sides C: So that has been very interesting, and we definitely appreciate you giving us another perspective.


MFP 051; Simpson; Page 14 S: Anytime, anytime. Now, are you graduate or undergraduate? E: Undergraduate. C: Un dergraduate. S: How are you classified? E: I'm a senior now. C: Same. S: Well, what are you all going to do next year? E: I'm applying to grad school in the fall. I want to be a professor, so. S: Okay. You know what you want to do? C: I may get into librar y science and archives and stuff like that, but still not a hundred percent sure. [Laughter] S: You have time, you have time. E: Yeah, certainly. S: All right. E: Well, thank you so much. [End of interview] Transcribed by: Diana Dombrowski, December 10, 2 013 Audit e dited by: Sarah Blanc, January 11, 2014 Final edited by: Diana Dombrowski, March 13, 2014

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