Evers discusses the White Citizens Council's attempts to intimidate him, and he describes white supremacists' attempts to rein in his civil rights work. He discusses his childhood and his relationship with his brother, Medgar, including the influences that led both to become civil rights activists. He also describes his and Medgar's efforts to open NAACP chapters and register African American voters. Evers discusses how white people attempted to keep him from registering to vote and to prevent him from voting. He affirms his belief in nonviolence, though he contends that African Americans should protect themselves. He discusses the trial of Byron De La Beckwith, his brother's murderer, and he recalls his brother's death and funeral. Evers considers issues of class in African American communities, expresses disagreement with the Black Muslim movement, and explains why some African Americans remain distrustful of white northerners' assistance with civil rights work. He also discusses sectional differences in race relations, whether federal troop protection is necessary in the South, and whether churches and colleges have done all they could to support the civil rights movement. Neil Goldschmidt participates in the conclusion of the interview, during which Goldschmidt and Evers describe the state of civil rights in Mississippi and recount the many ways in which the laws of Mississippi are used to harass African Americans.
Charles Evers and Neil E. Goldschmidt
James Charles Evers (1922- ) is a civil rights activist and politician. Born in Decatur, Mississippi, Evers is the older brother of slain civil rights activist Medgar Evers. Charles Evers fought in World War II in the Pacific and later graduated from Alcorn A&M University in Lorman, Mississippi. After graduation he worked in a Chicago hotel and sent money to his brother to support his civil rights work in Mississippi. When Medgar, who was appointed Mississippi's first full-time field secretary for the NAACP in 1954, was murdered in 1963, Charles Evers returned to Mississippi and took over his brother's role in the organization. In 1969 Charles Evers was elected mayor of Fayette, Mississippi, a town of 1,626 residents. He became the first African American mayor of a bi-racial town in Mississippi since Reconstruction. Charles Evers later ran unsuccessfully for governor of Mississippi and for the U.S. Senate.
Image courtesy of Vanderbilt University Special Collections and University Archives. Photo by Edwin Schmidt, 1970.
Neil E. Goldschmidt (1940- ) is an American politician. A native of Eugene, Oregon, Goldschmidt completed his undergraduate degree at the University of Oregon in 1963, and he received a law degree in 1967 from Boalt Law School at the University of California, Berkeley. In 1964 he performed voter registration work in Mississippi as part of the Freedom Summer campaign. After graduating from law school, Goldschmidt worked as a legal aid attorney in Portland for several years, before being elected city commissioner and later mayor of Portland. Goldschmidt served as mayor of Portland until 1979, when President Jimmy Carter appointed him Secretary of Transportation. In 1986 Goldschmidt was elected governor of Oregon. In 2004 the Willamette Weekly, a Portland newspaper, broke a story in which it contended that Goldschmidt, while mayor of Portland, engaged in a sexual relationship with a 14 year-old babysitter. The newspaper won a 2005 Pulitzer Prize for investigative journalism for its coverage of the story.
Image of Neil Goldschmidt is courtesy of the Oregon Historical Society.
TAPE 1 Searchable TextCollapse
[These digitized texts are based upon 1964 typed transcripts of Robert Penn Warren’s original interviews. Errors in the original transcripts have not been corrected. To ensure accuracy, researchers should consult the audio recordings available on this site.]
ROBERT PENN WARREN BOX 9 CHARLES EVERS TAPE #1
Mr. WARREN: You say the Citizens Council was calling you all day yesterday on the phone?
Mr. EVERS:They call all day every day and they hang up the phone and they – it’s a form of intimidation – harassment – that they go through, so we decided we would give them a taste of their own medicine by calling them – have a committee call them all day – so their phone is tied up and our phone is tied up too.
RPW:Yes. Let’s cut back to personal matters for a moment, if we may. How did you get involved in the movement? I know you were in physical education work before you came here, weren’t you? Is that right?
CE: Well, actually I have been involved in the movement since I was a boy. Now, what happened – Medgar and I had worked as a team together from boyhood. We organized chapters over in Newton County and over in Lauder County and Shauver County and Western County – and then up in the Delta section when we went out with teams in our early twenties. And then – I was in the funeral business -
CE: Over in Shauver County – Philadelphia, Mississippi. And I had – I was president of the Negroes’ Voters League, and I was trying to get Negroes registered to vote – and I had many hardships – many economic pressures were applied to me in my business, and they forced me out of business in 1957. At the same time I was president of our local branch there, and also president of the Negro Voters League of Mississippi. And therefore I had to – they broke me. They sued me – I had a couple of lawsuits, and I was thrown into – I was fined, and I was sued for personal damages – a white lady was – I was parked at an intersection, and a white lady was in the parking lot, and she got in the car and ran down – ran into me and tore my car – and they sued me for $5,000 claim and they said I had injured her back, and – that was confirmed by the courts. Then they also -
RPW:Was that appealed?
CE: No one would represent me. I couldn’t get an attorney to represent me. Then I went to St. Louis to a meeting, to the National Funeral Directors’ meeting, and while I was there my wife had – was attending a funeral that we had – a person had died and she was carrying a woman to the cemetery with the funeral procession, and a white man ran through the funeral procession and tore my with the body in it – and they sued me again for that and fined me a tremendous sum. So then they began to – I was the first Negro disc jockey in Mississippi. They got me fired from the radio station in Philadelphia, Mississippi.
RPW:That’s your picture there on the wall, isn’t it? The picture to the right of this letter from President Johnson and your brother.
CE: Yes. And President Kennedy too. That’s President Kennedy -
RPW:And on the left there is President – I mean, on the left is President Kennedy and you – and is it your family?
CE: No, that’s my brother’s family.
RPW:Your brother’s family.
CE: That’s when we were attending the funeral of my brother in Washington.
RPW:The funeral of your brother.
CE: Yes. We were guests of the President at the time.
RPW:Yes – I read that.
CE: So, as I was on to say, about the wreck that happened during my wife’s funeral procession – they sued me for that and then they began to apply pressure all over. They got me fired from the radio station – then they got me fired from – I had a restaurant downtown in Philadelphia and they closed it up – revoked my license. And then they began to not let me have – asked the casket companies who were selling me caskets and embalming fluid, not to sell me caskets and not let me have fluid. And they applied so much pressure to me and they – until I had no choice. I had to give up my business and seek employment – which I had never had a job before. I had worked for my father and my uncle in the funeral business and I had been in my own business for years. Then I began to look for employment. I couldn’t find it anywhere in the state, so I told Medgar – I said, look, Medgar, I’m going to go away and get a job, and I’ll send money, but you stay here and keep carrying the fight on, and I’ll go and send money back and try to buy some property and get enough income, and they would then fire you and I’ll come back and we’ll have enough money so that we can continue the fight and get our people free – and free ourselves. But I said, any time you need me I’ll be back, whether it’s day or night. And so we agreed, and then I told him, I said, now remember the pact that we made when we were boys – that whatever happened to one of us – the other one will carry on until the same thing happens to him until he could not – until physically he was prevented or until something else that we couldn’t help.
RPW:This was your agreement as boys?
CE: Yes. We must have been about – oh, I must have been about fifteen, I guess, and Medgar must have been around twelve. Why we said this – there was one day we were sitting at the Bilbo – at that time the late Senator Bilbo was campaigning for re-election, and he came to – he would come to our home every year – every time there was an election – he would stomp and and he would lambaste the Negroes and tell everybody he was going to send them back to Africa, and -
RPW:Which town is this, now?
CE: Decatur, Mississippi. The county seat of Newton County. And – so this particular – but we’d always go and listen to him, you know. We were about the only Negroes who would go up and listen, and we’d always go and sit right in front of him. My dad had always told us that we were as good as anybody, and that regardless of the man’s color, it had nothing to do with him as an individual or – and God loved us all – that we were all God’s children, and we had the rights of anyone else. So we felt that way. It was brought up in us. And we would go up and listen to him speak. We were sitting down in front of him this particular day and he said – and I remember it very clearly – he said, You see these two Negroes down here – if you don’t keep them in their place, some day they’ll be in Washington trying to represent you – taking my place and the rest of the good white people’s place. And I sort of looked up at him and smiled at him, and he said, He’s even got the nerve to grin at me. And then – that day, Medgar and I said, well some day he may be telling the truth. And Medgar said, You’re right, Charlie – some day we may be in Washington representing all the people of Mississippi. And from that day on we decided that that was something we could do. And then a few days later – a few months later – a friend of my dad’s was lynched. He was accused of insulting a white woman. They came and got him and dragged him out of his home, hooked him behind a wagon and dragged him down the streets into a pasture down – not too far from our home, and hung him to a tree, and stood off and shot him in two with shotguns, until his body fell – part of his body fell to the ground. And his clothes laid there in the pasture for weeks and weeks, and we used to go by and see them.
RPW:What year was this – approximately?
CE: Oh, I don’t know – it’s hard to say. It must have been 193 maybe 7 – 38 maybe.
RPW:Do you remember his name?
CE: Yes – Mr. Tingle.
CE: Tingle – his last name was Tingle.
CE: Yes. So we – it hurt my dad and it hurt us. We asked dad, Dad, why did they do it? Why did they do it? And he said, Son, just because he was a Negro. And I said, well, isn’t there something we can do – something that Negroes can do – something that the law would do to stop people from doing this? And dad replied to it, he said, The law themselves encourage that type of thing in Mississippi. He said, And we’re going to have to straighten it out ourselves. And that’s one of the most important things I think that made Medgar and I more determined to become fighters for equality of all men, not just Negroes, but all men.
RPW:Was your father in the funeral business too?
CE: My uncle was in the funeral business. My dad was a lumber contractor, and he owned shares in the funeral business, but he never actually was an undertaker. I lived with my father and uncle and worked with my uncle in the funeral business.
RPW:I see, with your uncle.
CE: Yes. And I – that was actually the beginning of us determine – of our determination that we would really do something and something we could do. We began then to go around and ask our people not buy newspapers from the white boys who would come around through a neighborhood and sell newspapers. And there was a furniture company – we tried to get our people not to buy furniture, because the white people would come in and sit on on the side of our parents’ bed and they would come in – open the door and call our friends and our mothers by their first name, and we asked them, Why do we have to say yes, sir, and no, sir, to the whites – they don’t say it to us. And my dad, said, Well, that’s just an old custom, son, it always has been the Negroes have to respect the white people. I said, Well, dad why can’t they respect us? He said, Well, white people don’t feel that we are supposed to be respected. They feel that we’re just a piece of property or a tool or something to be used, and that they are our superiors and that they have no right, or no reason to respect us. And I said then, I said, Well, I don’t feel – I feel that you have always told us, dad, that we’re as good as anybody else. He said, That’s right. I said, Then why should I say yes, sir, and no, sir, to them – they don’t say yes, sir, to me. Or they don’t say yes, sir, or no, sir, to you. He said, Well, I don’t know – it’s something that we just can’t help. You see, my father was not an educated man. He never finished the sixth grade. But he had a lot of common sense and he had the nerve of a lion – you couldn’t frighten him, and – what gave Medgar and I so much courage too, was that he never would let white people frighten him. I remember once we were at a commissary – a commissary is a little store where Negroes go and buy their commodities on Saturdays, and – we used to have a running account that we would pay every Saturday. This particular Saturday we went in to pay the account, and the store owner, who was named Jimmy Bulware at that time – I’ll never forget it – had a great reputation of beating Negroes – kicking Negroes, and if they didn’t pay the bill that he said they owed. So this Saturday he gave my dad his statement, and dad said, Mr. Bulware, this is wrong. He said, I don’t owe you this money. So he cursed him and told him he did. He said, don’t curse me – he said, I don’t owe you this money. And then he – Medgar and I were standing beside dad, and the commissary was jam-packed with people, and – with Negroes mostly – and a few white – so Bulware broke for the – for his cash register drawer, I guess – for the little drawer underneath the counter – and my dad jumped between he and the cash register and told him, he said, Look if you open that cash – and he grabbed a bottle – he said, if you open that cash register I’m going to bust your brains out. At that time Medgar and I received – the picked up a bottle – each – and stood at the door. And my dad said, Son, don’t turn your back on them – he said, just stand there. And dad talked to him. He said, if you dare hit one of us, he said, we’re all going down – and this white man stood there and trembled – he just shook like a leaf on a tree. And that - let me know then that – my dad only had a bottle – he had a gun lying there, right inside but he was afraid to pick it up – so I knew then that white men – from a boy – are cowards, and they are easy to become excited if you show any type of nerve or any courage at all they will quick turn and run – they’ll tuck their tails.
RPW:Would you generalize that – you’d say a white man – would you generalize that – all white men are cowards?
CE: No – I wouldn’t say all white men are cowards. I would say the type who live violently are cowards – those who depend on violent means to secure their ends are cowards. I noticed as we grew up, we’d watch the cowboy pictures, and we’d notice how all the bad white men would always take a – try to sneak and hide and shoot the other brave men in the back, or they would try to stay in the bushes and shoot them as they passed. So those are the type of things that built up – we noticed that – that helped us understand that Negroes and white, to a certain extent, are the same, that a coward is a coward, regardless of who he is, and most cowards react the same, and that has been one of the reasons why we felt that we should not be afraid of the whites – stand up to them – respect ourselves and respect them too – and demand respect from them. So we did this for – clean through our boyhood days, and as we began to – came into manhood we went into the army and served in the army – World War II -
RPW:Both of you?
CE: Both of us, yes. Then we came back home in 1946 and we felt that – at that time, you know, you didn’t have to pay a poll tax,
RPW:Let me interrupt a second – what branch of the service were you in, and what branch was he in?
CE: Well, we were in many different branches – you know, during World War II the army was segregated, so they put Negroes wherever they thought they could be served most. When I first went in, I went into the Engineers, and I was transferred from the Engineers to the Infantry, from the Infantry to the Tank Battalion, from the Tank Battalion – I got hurt in 1942 in Louisiana on maneuvers the Red – and I believe the Blue – the Red and White or Red and Blue Maneuvers, I believe it was – I got hurt on maneuvers, and I was put into a limited service unit in Fort Still, Oklahoma, and I stayed there for I guess two years. My job there was to transfer recruits to replacement centers, and then after I got back and recuperated, then they sent me – assigned me back to an engineer battalion, and I went overseas with the Thirteenth Engineers, and went to the Pacific – we served in the Pacific Theatre for three years, and Medgar was with the Military Police Department in France – he was in the Normandy Invasion. And he served there for two and a half years. And then when we both came back in 1946, we decided we’d – we’d always wanted to register but we were too young before – so we were old enough now to register, and we wanted to register to vote. We began to work in our community to try to talk to the people of our community to get interested in voting.
RPW:Now, this was Decatur again?
CE: Decatur, yes. In Newton County. So then we had many hardships – the whites began to threaten our parents, and they began to threaten us, and Bilbo came back again and said, the way to stop these Negroes from voting is to visit them the night before the election. And sure enough, they came the night before the election of 1946 – I think it was -
RPW:But you were registered then?
CE: No – I hadn’t registered -
CE: - and told my father that if he don’t stop these – your sons from trying to register, something bad is going to happen to them. In the meantime, Medgar and I were in school down in and we were coming home for weekends and pushing – and working with the voter registration and organizing NAACP chapters. So then when we came home my dad told us what he had said, and so I said, well, dad, I was involved in New Guinea and I fought in the Philippines, and I wanted to fight here in Mississippi to have the thing that we fought for there. I said, this is our country, and I don’t care what no white man says, I’m going to stay right here in Mississippi and enjoy it. And if I can fight there for it, I can stay here and fight for it. And Medgar felt the same way, and Medgar said, we’re going to register. We don’t care what they say. So that morning we went up to register, and when we got to the register – we got up to the place to register, Mr. Brand who at that time was circuit clerk – he had know us all our lives – he came up and he said, Come here, Charles, you and Medgar – he carried us into a room and he talked to us, he said, now, look, son, now I don’t have no right to tell you not to register and not to vote, he said, but -
RPW:This was the registrar?
CE: The registrar. He said, but it’s going to cause trouble. He said, now if I were you I’d just go on back and wait. The time will come when you can register. And I told him then, I said, Mr. Brand, we’ve waited too long already. I said, I want to register now. Not tomorrow, but now. So he said, well, he said, you’re going to cause trouble. I said, well, I don’t care what the trouble is, I want to register. So he carried me and we registered.
RPW:Both of you -
CE: Both of us. We registered. Then we went back. And the election was coming up I believe about two months later – three months later – we could vote. And then we came back and we got five others to register. We came back to vote – that’s when the trouble really came. Then they this time they – a friend of my dad’s and my parents – all this time we’re going to come and we’re going to kill them – we’re going to do this and we’re going to do that. So when we got back to Decatur to register to vote for the election that fall – it was November – that fall – then they must have had over 200 I guess – these white – I don’t want to say hoodlums – with shotguns and overall pants on and rifles, and the next morning Medgar and three other of our friends went down to vote. They blocked – they put the polls inside of a room – like inside this room here – and then they blocked the door with these whites. And Medgar and I pushed the door – where the poll was – where the booth was. First we were going to get our ballots – they stopped us – they tried to stop us from getting the ballots. Mr. Brand just said, step aside and let them get the ballots. So when we went in to get them – he gave us our ballots – we came out – they blocked the booth – where the – they blocked the door where the polling place was, and they – as I walked up they rammed a shotgun in my side and said I’ll blow you half in two, and they wanted to put a rifle in Medgar’s side, and they said, You damned Evers niggers, you’re nothing but trouble noway. And I said to him, I said, now you don’t have the guts to pull the trigger. I said, in the first place, you’re a coward. I said, now if you’re going to kill me for wanting to register, you keep me right here in the court house; and Medgar says, They aren’t going to do anything. Charlie – don’t worry about it. And by that time another white man who we had worked for – helped – we had raked his yard and we had played with his sons and we had – my mother, I remember, once had nursed his wife when she was sick – walked up and said that – you niggers are going to get in trouble if you don’t go on back home. He says, now you go on back home, with Jim and Jeff, and stop raising all this trouble. But he had been here all these years, and they – looked upon as the leading Negroes of our time – no point in you creating all this trouble for them. And I said, We aren’t creating any trouble for them, Mr. X, I said, the point of it is we just decided we want to have the same thing you have – that is, our freedom and right to register and vote. I said, we looking for trouble. And he said – by that time he said, Well, if you don’t get away from here, you’re going to wind up getting shot. And I said, Well, you don’t want to shoot me as long as I’m looking at you, but we turn our backs you possible will. And by that time another white lady who we thought quite a bit of had heard what was going on. She came over, and she said, Charles and Medgar, please, she said, they’ll kill you. She said, And so we said, O.K., then. And I told her, I said, look, you’ve beaten us but you haven’t defeated us. We’ll be back. And I told Medgar, I said, don’t turn around, Medgar, just back out the door. Well, these other three – two – fellows who were at the door waiting for us, and we backed out of the doorway -
CE: Yes, our friends. And then they said, You damned Evers niggers are going to get all the niggers in Decatur killed if you don’t stay at home and tend to your own business. So we didn’t say anything. We all got outside on the court house square, and I told Medgar, I said, look, you and the other two fellows go down one way, and the others will go with me down in a different direction. So as we were going down the street, here comes about three or four carloads of these whites – they ran down beside and jumped on the cars – and by that time I had a – as I always did, usually – we’d always be well armed, and so I said, Listen, if you touch one of us, we’re going to leave you right in the street. Now, we’re not going to bother you, don’t you bother us. But nobody is going to take a whipping from any of you white people – do you understand that? We’re going to kill you niggers – you ain’t going to do nothing to me, I said, - there’s one thing about it, if you’re going to kill I’m going to get one of you first – now you just believe that – hear? So they stood there and they cursed and we kept on walking and they cursed us – they drove alongside and cursed us all the way down the street.
RPW:Were they armed?
CE: Yes, they were armed. They had shotguns in the car. And they said –
because they felt that we were going to fight back. So I said, And don’t follow me home. Now, you follow me down to the store but you’d better not follow me on my property. So they followed us – not far – I’d say about a hundred yards they followed us, and then they turned around and went on back. You’d better not be in town when night comes. So Medgar and I decided we were going back to school – which was Alcorn -
RPW:Where was that?
CE: Alcorn College. We were going back to school that afternoon. So they said, You’d better not go. But then we stayed because we thought they might bother our parents. And we had a barn out back on our property, which was inside the city limits – but it’s – at that time there was no rule against having a barn and chickens and cows. So we – I planned – I asked Medgar, I said, you stay in the bar, and I’ll get in the garage, and we’ll stay in there – and our – other two friends stayed across the street in one of our rent houses in case they came, we’ll have them in – we’ll put them in a crossfire – by now we had learned to – in case people should attack you, the best way is to get them in a crossfire and you can’t miss. We felt they were going to come in large numbers and we planned to get them in a crossfire. So that night we stayed all night – we sat up all night waiting for them to come, and they didn’t come. As soon as day broke, then, we went home – went across the street to the house and laid down and had a few hours’ rest. I had a ’41 Ford at that time, and I got in my car – Medgar and I got in the car the next morning and drove back uptown and went into the court house and caught them unaware because they thought we were gone. We went to the court – no one was there – and we went into the court house and went into the Circuit Clerk’s office and asked them why do they feel the way they do about us. He said, Well, Charles, I told you before that it’s just not time yet. And I said, Well, when do you think the time will come? And he said, I don’t know, it’s going to take time. And then we walked – turned and said thank you – turned and walked on out.
RPW:What kind of a man is the Circuit Court Clerk?
CE: I must say he was a – I would say, a fairly decent man. He actually didn’t ever show any resentment for us – he never showed where was for us, either. He seems to have been the type of person who wanted to advise against any possible trouble or possible violence. He was not a violent man.
RPW:Do you think he had some sense of the injustice of the situation, some regret about it – or not?
CE: Yes, I do. I think he was a man who knew they were wrong, but the position he held he knew that he would be crucified had he spoken out.
RPW:What about the registrar? Mr. Brand?
CE: He’s the same man.
RPW:Oh, the same man. I see.
CE: What happened – we had worked for Mr. Brand for a long time -
RPW:Is that Brand?
CE: Brand – yes. We had worked for him a long time and we knew him and he knew us. He knew my father he knew my mother and he knew all of us. Well, you know, that’s our home. And I feel that he was a fair man. There were many there who were fair. But these who were so bitter against us were, as I’ve said before and I’ve said many times, were the ignorant whites who had nothing to offer and their own way of proving that they were somebody was to try to keep the Negro depressed and deprived of his rights as a citizen and as an individual.
RPW:But there were never was an attempt by the other white people in the neighborhood to interfere with this – to stop this?
CE: No. You see, in Mississippi, the white man who differed with the extremists are in much more danger than the Negro, because reprisals will come to them are much severer than would come to us, and that’s why so many good white people in Mississippi are afraid to speak out – and there are many.
RPW:James Baldwin says in print that he’s convinced by the testimony of Southern Negroes that a Southern mob does not represent the will of the white majority but fills, as he says, as he says, a moral vacuum.
CE: Partly I agree. I won’t say it’s the majority, but I will say that I don’t think that the mob represents all the whites of the city – I can’t say that it doesn’t represent the majority, because evidently it is the majority because they seem to be too solid on it. A person having lived in Mississippi, it would be hard for them to judge on whether or not that that’s the case. I’ve lived here all my life, with the exception of the four or five years I was away trying to save money to come back to Mississippi. I can’t say that Mr. Baldwin is altogether true – I would say that there are a large majority of whites who do not approve of this type of thing, but I can’t say that they’re the majority. I think I would be exaggerating to say that they’re the majority of the whites in Mississippi feel that this thing that we are fighting for and dying for is right.
RPW:But majority or not, they are passive or withdrawn from it, anyway.
CE: Oh, yes.
RPW:I don’t want to interrupt your narrative. Go ahead and tell me more of this straight ahead story, will you?
CE: Well, I think we left off when we tried to register and vote.
RPW:That’s right. You came back the next morning to the court house.
CE: Yes, we came back from there. Then we went and got in our car and pursued back to the school, and when we got back to the school we had many calls, many letters from home, from our Negro friends, asking us please don’t come back to Decatur because they’re going to kill us if we had gone back. And Medgar and I felt and we – and Medgar felt until his assassination, that if we must go, then we must - Mississippi. We took a chance in France, we took a chance in New Guinea, we took a chance in Manila, we took a chance in going to Japan – had we had to invade Japan – we had already been alerted to go there – to fight for democracy, to fight for the things that we – this country was established for. I said, If I have got to come back to Mississippi – the two of us felt this way – and be denied these things, then my fighting and my sacrifices, all the years I sacrificed in the army have been in vain. I said, If I had the nerve and the courage to go and face people I’ve never seen before and never heard of and never even spoken to, well, the least we could do is stay here and face people who we grew up with and who we knew – we had served – who have served us – who we have worked beside – who we have played beside – I said, If I don’t have the nerve to stand up to them and tell them what I want, then we must be a phoney all the way, and we don’t believe that we are phonies and we didn’t believe it then. So we felt that we must let Mississippi know – and I still feel – and Medgar felt that this is our state. And we went and fought for this country – it wasn’t anybody else – and all we want out of it is an equal opportunity – no more and no less. Therefore, when we went back to Alcorn we began to continue to work, and we came back home the next weekend and nothing happened to us, and we went back home until we finished school. And then when I came home – when we came out of school, I went in and took over the funeral parlor which we had in Philadelphia, Mississippi, and Medgar then went into Mound Bayou and headed up an insurance company. At that time the president was Dr. T.R.M. Howard, whom we looked on more or less as a father and as a – well, he was everything – a counsel to us. Because he was the – one of the few men who seemed to have understood what Medgar and I wanted. And he was one of the few Negroes in Mississippi at that time who were willing to stand by us and push us and urge us on.
RPW:Most Negroes were willing to stand aside – is that it – at that period?
CE: Well, they weren’t willing – they were afraid.
RPW:Well – afraid.
CE: They were afraid. I wouldn’t dare say that no Negro – including the Uncles Toms, as we called them – don’t want the same thing or didn’t want the same thing that Medgar and I wanted. But many of them didn’t have the courage and the guts to be willing to stand up for it.
RPW:All this hopelessness, too.
CE: Yes. And they always felt that it was a hopeless and a useless fate, that the white man was in charge, he always remained in charge. That this was his country and he would control it. Well, we were trying to get our people to see what I’m still trying to get them to see – what Medgar died trying to get them to see – is that this is not any one person’s country – this a country of all the people, and it’s only you people exert every effort that you have to let the world know that you are willing to pay the supreme sacrifice, as all other great Americans did, to make it a better place to live. And one of the greatest ways to do that is through political participation – register and vote – education, self-denial, self-respect, respect for others, and demand respect from them.
RPW:How much progress do you think has been made in that way in the last fifteen years?
CE: A tremendous amount. More than we had ever dreamed would come. I think – there are many instances where it brought about the war, the two wards that we had. You see, the Negro in Mississippi has always been denied communication, association with other people – with people who have learned and who have been exposed. You see, a person’s intelligence is no greater than his exposure. We in Mississippi have been – most of us have been brought up on farms, and we’ve worked for the – in these kitchens and in these back yards and on these plantations for nothing – and that’s all we ever got. My father, I don’t think he ever – he left Mississippi one time – he lived 68 years and he left Mississippi once – he went to Chicago to visit my sister on her dying bed. So therefore he knew nothing but Mississippi. And there are millions – I mean thousands, should I say, of Negroes who have never been out of Mississippi, who have never been fifty miles from where they were born. So therefore, until World War II came, we thought that the whole world was just like Mississippi. We had no ambitions, we had no outlook on the world or life. And then by going in – the war coming and they threw all of us into the army with men from all over the world and all over the country, and listened to them talk and see how free they were. And when I went into the army and found a boy I had finished high school and here was a boy who hadn’t even finished eighth grade – was much more abreast, much more learned than I was – he could discuss things that I hadn’t even heard of – and I knew then that there must be a better place – that Mississippi had deprived us of all of the things that others are getting throughout this country.
RPW:The same thing is true, to a substantial degree, of the white boy growing up, too, isn’t it?
CE: Right. As the whites of Mississippi are in the same predicament we are. And our basic trouble is ignorance -
RPW:On both sides.
CE: - white and Negro. We just haven’t been exposed to anything. And the only thing that the poor whites know, and the poor Negroes know, is what these politicians get up and holler on the radio and newspapers and television. Therefore, he feels that there’s not a line of communication between the Negroes and whites, and they don’t know what the Negro wants other than this politician who is in there for his own personal gain – just saying that all Negroes want to do is to come down and marry your daughter and destroy your homes. He never says that Negroes want – all the Negroes want is an equal education, to learn to be a first-class citizen. He never says that Negroes want to be able to participate in political affairs. He never says that the Negro wants to equip himself in education to where he would be able to serve in any educational capacity where he’s needed. He never says that Negroes want to be lawyers and doctors, and where he can nurse and where he can doctor on any person – any patient who needs medical care. He never says that Negroes want to be dignitaries – to go out and represent our state or our country. But all he’s sure of is that the Negroes want to become intimate with your daughter. And no man approves of anyone who wants to come into his life through his daughter. They know that’s a good weapon they can use, and they hammer away at that. All they want to do is intermarry – intermarry – intermarriage – and they never say that Negroes are equal to anyone else – give them a chance. Therefore, Negroes are inferior because they have been beaten on their heads all their lives – that you’re not as good as that white man. And it’s going to take time for Negroes to realize that he is as good as anyone if he demands equal – if he prepared himself to become as equal to anyone else.
RPW:Do you think the non-violence technique has been the key of success so far?
CE: I do. The only way that we have is through non-violence – there’s no other way. Violence will never accomplish anything in our fight. It will only destroy everything that we have gained to turn to violence.
RPW:You know, of course, that there are people – Negroes – who disagree with you – that the time for violence is probably coming – that the threat of violence is the only weapon that will finally break certain localities - it’s been said to me by people I’ve talked with.
CE: Yes. Here’s what I feel. I don’t believe in violence, but I believe in this – I believe in self-preservation, and I believe in protecting yourself. Now you remember a few minutes ago I said that Medgar and I always tried to protect ourselves – now, that doesn’t mean that we are violent – because if I don’t let you come into my home and drag my son out and lynch him – I’ll say this – I wouldn’t ask any Negro any more to be driving along in his car and let a bunch of white hoodlums ride beside him and start beating him, or come into his home and drag his son or his daughter out or his wife out and beat them. Now, we don’t consider when we protect our people in that respect as violence. But when I speak of violence is to arm ourselves and go down and start shooting people on the streets, start going down – as they do us – beating them up as whites have done to us all these years – taking them by their hand and by their feet – dragging them and hanging them in a tree and shooting them in two like they did Mr. Tingle many years ago. Now, that’s the type of violence we don’t believe in. But now I don’t want nobody to every think that I don’t believe in protecting myself or protecting my own or my family.
RPW:Now, for either on or off the record you choose, you see – we will put it down and you can cut it out of the transcript if you like – take a case like the Jackson student – Jackson College student situation, where there is immediate provocation and a flare-up, you see, of anger, and then you – the stoning of cars – now, I’ve talked with several people here in Jackson – several Negroes – none of them quite agree as to what should be done about it, you see. Some have said that they thought that it should be encouraged, that an outburst would have blown the lid and meant federal interference. Some take the line you took, as I understand it. You tried to break it up and – put the crowd of students back into order – withdraw from the streets – is that right?
RPW:That is, you went among them and tried to break it up. And even after the shooting, that your policy – if it’s represented to me correctly – it may not be correctly represented – was to withdraw them from the streets -
CE: Right. That is true. I don’t feel, as I said before, that violence will aid us at all. The thing that happened at Jackson College is understandable for any group.
RPW:It’s humanly understandable, yes.
CE: But I don’t think that we should resort to that because that’s the same thing that the white man is using all the time – violence – and that’s why he’s being destroyed all over this land. And if we turn to violence we can only, as I said before, defeat our purpose and our aim and our objectives. We’re gaining – we’re winning – it’s obvious – it’s evident. And the reason why that our country today is slipping into third, fourth, fifth, sixth, seventh, eighth or ninth – even twelfth place – is because of the violence tactics that have been used and the reprisals that have been used against other people in other lands. So we started to figure – in Jackson College, I felt that the kids – I told them, the greatest accomplishment that can be made is through negotiation. Now, you have a right to protest, but I don’t condone throwing bottles, cursing, being disrespectful towards anyone. Now, you’re doing the same thing – as I told them – that these policemen have done and are doing. You’re showing inferiority. Any time you have to resort to profanity, to rock throwing, and to gunplay, then you are inferior, or you feel that you’re not quite capable to stand up and compete against another man as man to man. And I wanted them not to go downtown and demonstrate – that wasn’t the answer. But be firm and demand that something be done on the campus, and stay on the campus.
RPW:If nothing were done, though, should there be a demonstration? Of course you can’t answer this because – generally, perhaps, because the situations change.
CE: I think, as you said – I think that’s something that has to wait and then see if nothing is done. Now something has been done -
RPW:Yes, I know, I saw it -
CE: Through that - that was a good thing – the flare-up itself was a good thing – but I personally have been asking the City of Jackson to place a light or some type of protection there for the kids, and they have told me that it was being studied by the engineering department.
RPW:Were you on the committee that went to the mayor?
CE: Yes – no – no – I wasn’t there – he didn’t want to see me – the mayor won’t even talk to me.
RPW:Reverend Horton went, didn’t he?
CE: I believe so. Reverend Horton, Reverend Smith – they went to -
RPW:Then the mayor later said that nobody had come to him – is that right?
CE: Well, the mayor has even said that no one at all had ever been there, and even the Board of Education said they had asked – and they had been requested, and money had been set aside for an overpass. But the mayor said he didn’t know anything about it at all.
RPW:Yet there had been a committee calling on him?
CE: Oh, yes. There had been a committee calling on him. Well, see, the mayor feels in Jackson that he is not obligated to Negroes because, as I tell them all the time, Negroes do not vote in Jackson, but if Negroes were voting in Jackson, the mayor would have a different tune. And that’s why we are putting forth every effort that we possibly can to get Negroes registered, because we know that through registration and through selective bargaining are the two greatest weapons that the Negro has.
RPW:Let me ask about the trial of Beckwith – how did the verdict strike you. Now, I have run across the notion that it was rigged – I have run across the notion that it was an honest split of opinion, and I have heard many views of this. What do you think?
CE: Well, actually, - except this won’t come out until after, I guess, the conviction of the -
RPW:It won’t come out until mid-summer anyway.
CE: As you know, I have withheld any comment on -
RPW:I know you have.
CE: - but all I can say is that -
RPW:You can put a date on this if you want to -
CE: I wouldn’t like it to come out until after the – other thing -
CE: - the decision – I feel that – and I guess maybe I’m a little liberal in my thinking – that there was someone on this jury who wanted justice done. And I feel that the prosecutor did everything in his power, along with his aids, and the Jackson police department, to bring about justice – not because Medgar was Medgar Evers or he’s my brother – but I feel that they did because they felt a crime had been committed, and I feel that somewhere that there’s been a change of heart among men in Mississippi – some men. And I feel that they did the very best they could.
RPW:Some really – it was an honest job?
CE: I actually believe that. Maybe I’m wrong.
RPW:Well, of course, it’s always possible
CE: Uh-huh, I could be wrong, but – as I said before, - you say it was rigged – well, if it was rigged, it was the first time in the history of Mississippi that they even thought enough of a Negro to even rig a trial make it look like it.
RPW:Even to try and impress the outside world.
CE: Even to try and impress the outside world. So I feel that it won’t bring Medgar back, and Medgar wouldn’t want it any other way. He wouldn’t want me to feel any different. I know Medgar – we – like I said, we was – I was indispensable. And he wouldn’t want me to say anything else other than I feel that somebody wanted to see justice done.
RPW:That’s an encouraging thought. Tell me this – where does his family live now?
CE: They’re still at the same location – 2332 Gymes – yes. The same location – and, as I said, I think Mrs. Evers feels practically the same way I do – as I said, Medgar and I never believed in violence – we never believed in retaliation – we never believed in trying to belittle anyone because of our personal feelings. And we know that all of us didn’t agree, but I truly believe that the – and I appreciate what the prosecuting attorney did – the district attorney -
RPW:You think it was a vigorous prosecution.
CE: I really do. And I also appreciate the jurors who were men enough to say that this was wrong and let the world know who they were I don’t know.
RPW:Do you think there will be a leak in reprisals against those jurors?
CE: I hope not. I don’t see why there should be. I also think that the Jackson police department did a wonderful job in collecting evidence and getting witnesses. I appreciate that.
RPW:That’s a strange division in the department, isn’t it – they will go for this collection of evidence, yet other officers will testify contrary to the
evidence – the officers who said that they had seen your brother – you know – gave him an alibi – I mean Beckwith – gave Beckwith an alibi at the time that he was presumably close to your brother’s house.
CE: Well, as I said, that’s an individual. I’d like to give credit to only those who were against us, as I said before, and they’ve been against us all the time. But I feel that any officer who does his job – not because it was Medgar – not because he was a Negro – but because he was a human being and that he – a wrong – a crime had been committed. And it’s their duty as a police officer to collect all the evidence that they possibly could. I believe they did.
RPW:That is, they had some sense of the ethics of their own job, then – if nothing else.
CE: I believe from the moral standpoint if nothing else they did a good job.
RPW:I’m going to switch the tape now.
TAPE 2 Searchable TextCollapse
[These digitized texts are based upon 1964 typed transcripts of Robert Penn Warren’s original interviews. Errors in the original transcripts have not been corrected. To ensure accuracy, researchers should consult the audio recordings available on this site.]
ROBERT PENN WARREN BOX 10 CHARLES EVERS TAPE #2
[00:00:11] Mr. WARREN: This is Tape #2 of the interview with Charles Evers in Jackson, Tennessee, (?), February 12. You’re going to talk more about the murder and the trial, you said.
Mr. EVERS:Yes, I was just saying, when we were boys, I remember, as I said before, that Senator Bilbo said once – in Decatur, on the court house square, that some day if you don’t stop these Negroes and keep them in their place, they’ll be in Washington trying to represent you. This really – that’s when we were just boys, and the funny thing about it, when Medgar’s body was carried to Washington, after he was assassinated, it didn’t bother me too much. I had never broken down until we got to Washington, and as I sat in the limousine waiting for them to bring his body out of the church in Washington -
RPW:What church was that, may I ask?
CE: That was the – I don’t remember what church it was – I guess I should, but -
RPW: I’m sorry I interrupted.
CE: When they rolled him out of the church and rolled him – and put him into the hearse, and as we began to pursue to the cemetery, it all came back so clear, that many years ago Bilbo predicted this, and Medgar and I said the same thing, and now here we are, here, representing all our people, in Washington. And that was the time I broke down. I never had broken down before, but it just seemed so real and the prediction had come true – although he didn’t mean it in that sense – but the point of it was, we were there, and we were representing all of the people – not Negroes, but all of the people of Mississippi. Because, as I know, the tragedy that happened to him affected everyone, white and black, Indians, Chinese, Japanese and all. Because they know, too, that until all of us are free and we are free from this type of intimidation, that none of us are free.
RPW:What effect did this have on the white people in Mississippi – I mean, not the murder, now, but the fact of the official funeral in Washington? Do you know what effect it had?
CE: No, I don’t know – I had a lot of calls and quite a few friendly letters, stating that they thought it was a very dramatic thing, and they thought it was a wise decision for us to make to have him buried there.
RPW:The white people in Mississippi?
CE: Yes, the white people in Mississippi. Although they were – they remained anonymous and they didn’t give their names and the addresses, but they did call. I often get calls from many whites, telling us to keep on, to keep it up, don’t give up, keep it up, because victory will be ours. But I – and people wonder why I come back to Mississippi. Actually I never left Mississippi. I was just vacationing, should I say, until the time was right for me to return. But I promised Medgar and I promised my people when I left that I would return, and I returned to carry on the job that I felt that Medgar and I – I don’t know why – could do better than anybody else in the world, in Mississippi, because, as I said before, it’s something that we wanted to do, something that we felt that we should do. We didn’t do it for fame nor fortune. We did it because we feel that every American has something he can contribute toward equality for others. And we – I could have been a wealthy man today – Medgar could have been a wealthy man. But we didn’t choose that. We chose to stay here and to stay a part of our people, to stay poor with them, but try to become – to be able to become informative, and be able to keep them informed and to help raise the standards of all the Negroes and all of the people of our state, not just myself or Medgar and his family or one or two others. Because we could have so easily turned our back to the situation, and Medgar would have been alive today, and I could be with my family, and we could be living in the luxuries of the other world when – forgetting all about that there are thousands upon thousands of my people who need us.
RPW:I know it’s true to a degree, and everyone says so, and it’s written about, but there was and to some degree is now a split between the prosperous Negro, the middle and upper class, and the masses of Negroes. How much does that prevail in Mississippi now?
CE: Actually, it prevails all over the United States. There’s no point in us fooling ourselves. We know it prevails in Mississippi because – as Medgar and I always felt, that this is something that has to be a part of you, and most of our wealth people are – feel that they have no part to play in this. I have everything that I want, why should I destroy myself, or why should I deprive myself of my, should I say, treasures, or my happiness and my comfort, to worry about some drunk down the street there, or to worry about some illiterate down the street there. Why – I prepared myself, why can’t they? And as I said before, it’s something that has to be a part of you, and Medgar and I, I keep repeating, had the same opportunity these people had. And I’m not being braggadocio – we had a chance to be rich – and I still have the chance, if I wanted to. But I don’t choose richness. I choose to be a part of people, to be among the people, and to be – to have something to offer people, and to be able to help people who need help.
RPW:Has that split between the prosperous middle class among Negroes and the general masses of the Negroes been lessened in the last few years here?
CE: Yes, I would say so, in – particularly in Mississippi. Some of our leading supporters now are some of the wealthiest Negroes. I’ll admit they don’t stand up and holler this from the treetops or from the housetops as loud as I may do it, or as loud as Medgar did, but they are supporting us one hundred percent. And actually I that that there are very few Negroes, rich, poor, beggar or whatever the case may be, that are not with us in this movement. I have never been turned down for anything I have asked them for, regardless of who they are – bootleggers, whether they are legal operators or illegal, they still support us indirectly.
RPW:Have the Black Muslims come into Mississippi?
CE: (laugh) No, they haven’t, and I have often wondered why.
RPW:They’re in Louisiana, of course. They’ve been active there.
CE: I understand they are, but I wondered what happened why they haven’t been in Mississippi. As I said before, there’s room for all of us here and if they want to come in I am sure they can get accommodated. But I don’t think they will come in.
RPW:They’re not on your side, of course.
CE: No, they aren’t on anyone’s side. The Black Muslims are on their own side. They are extremists, and as Medgar and I have said many times, we don’t believe in extreme groups one way or the other. I don’t believe any more in black supremacy than I do in white supremacy. I want every man to have an equal opportunity, and every man to be treated as an American, not as a white or black, not as superior or inferior, but as an American, and that’s it. And I think that a man should be characterized and should be judged as an individual. Whatever he is, let him be that. It’s not my duty or not the society’s duty to classify anyone. Therefore, I don’t believe in the Muslims and I don’t believe in what they stand for. I’ll admit that we have a few things in common. For instance, they feel that they should have an opportunity to do what they want, but I don’t believe that – I don’t want to be in an all black state any more than I want see an white state. I don’t want to have the right to knock you down and kick you around because I am a Negro, any more than I want you to knock me down and kick me around. I don’t want you to not harm me because I am a Negro, and I don’t think I should feel as though I should not harm you because you’re white. So you see we have many differences there, and I don’t agree with them at all.
RPW:I understand from people in the movement in Mississippi and elsewhere in the South that there are sometimes resentment of varying degrees of intensity by the local Negroes against the whites who come in to work with the movement, to work with the various organizations, who come in either from adjoining states or from the North, or even who are local people, Mississippi people, to join the movement – white people, young white people - to join the movement. There are varying degrees of resentment against this, not always but often enough to be observed. I am told this by various Negroes in Louisiana and Mississippi.
CE: Well, that’s true. It’s true in Mississippi, Louisiana, Arkansas, South Carolina, North Carolina, Georgia, Florida – for the simple reason – and it’s quite understandable, I think -
RPW:It’s understandable, yes. I want to know, what are the reasons.
CE: The reasons are – number one, the Negroes just don’t trust whites. And the reason they don’t trust them is because we Southerners have been built up and mistreated so badly by whites that it’s hard to believe that any white man, unless you are intelligent enough to reason that thinks enough of you to come down here and sacrifice all the things that he has to see you get the thing that you want. And only the intelligent Negro and the Negro who is concerned about the movement, and the Negro who knows that there is someone who believes in Christianity, who believes that there is someone who cares enough to give the very best.
RPW:Now, this is all of the record – of course we’ll put it in – but as background material – Mr. Moses said yesterday that there was real resentment about the fact that some of the whites, the better educated in the mass of the Negro workers and there was jealousy about the command posts they had achieved quickly because they were better trained. You see, there is some real jealousy that developed problem to keep this under control.
CE: Well, maybe Mr. Moses would know more about it than I would -
RPW:He said that he -
CE: I don’t know that. I can’t see where that would be. We – I’m speaking of the NAACP when I say “we” – we open our arms and our doors to the most learned persons because we feel that the more brains that we get into our organization – white or black – the better it will be, because we feel that the whites have had the opportunity to be exposed to the type of thing that we are fighting for, and the more of those we can get involved into the movement and into fighting for freedom – and legally and spiritually – the better it will be for all people. So I would say that in my organization – in our organization – that we don’t feel that way. We’re glad to have them.
RPW:Yes. You have been attacked by Adam Clayton Powell on that point, too, of course. The attack on the NAACP was on that basis, of having this – the white membership and the white officers.
CE: Well, Congressman Powell is a very good friend of mine, I must say that. He was a very good friend of my brother’s. And I think that, as I said before, in fighting for this freedom we must also realize that a man has a right to think and to react the way he pleases as long as it does not intimidate or incriminate anyone else. Now, I don’t know whether he actually feels that way or not. I’ve seen – I’ve read where he said things, but, on the other hand, he has offered to come and speak for me here in Mississippi, and maybe there are some things that he don’t approve of, but I -
RPW:This is Jack Greenburg’s department.
RPW:Like Jack Greenburg’s department – the NAACP education and defense fund.
CE: Well, as I said before, I guess maybe that’s an individual thing, and I don’t have too much comment on – against or for it – Congressman Powell – I think he’s a wonderful man and I think he has done a lot to help to advance the cause. But I imagine that, as any other individual, that there are some things that he likes and some things that he doesn’t like, and that there are some things he approves of and other things that he don’t approve of. Now, maybe he feels that there should be a Negro head of the NAACP, but I don’t feel that it necessarily has to be a Negro at the head of NAACP. I feel that there should be a human being at the head of NAACP, whether he’s black or white. It doesn’t matter – what we are fighting for now is equality, and I feel that if I’m going to discriminate against you because you’re white and say you can’t be a part of my organization, then I’m destroying all the things that I’m fighting for. The things that I do speak louder than the things that I say. So I don’t think – and maybe he actually meant that – maybe he did – that he didn’t want whites a part of – because I’m quite sure that he associates with many whites.
RPW:Oh, yes, he does.
CE: And I’m quite sure that – men in his – in his very beginning into the political world, that somewhere a white man must have helped him to get in a position where he could get the support of the Negroes in Harlem.
RPW:Maybe he thinks the Negro voter of his constituency wants to hear this.
CE: Well, as I’ve said before, people have reasons for doing things. I will say that – back to the later Senator Bilbo. Now, Senator Bilbo was no more against the Negro than any other white man. But Senator Bilbo knew, in order to stay in Washington and get that fat salary that he was receiving and live on a flower bed of ease, he had to come back and lambaste and discredit Negroes. Now, Senator Bilbo as an individual did more for individual Negroes than any governor that we have ever had.
RPW:You mean ones he knew or -
CE: Ones he knew. And he’s a man who contributed more – he began to contribute to building the state institutions – new buildings at Alcorn. During his administration we received more than any other time until modern – until recently.
RPW:Do you think he was acting as a matter of trying to head off the attacks on “separate but equal” by making the Negro schools more nearly equal, or at least improving them?
CE: That’s possible, but -
RPW:That’s been true pretty generally since the Supreme Court decision.
CE: It’s possible. This was before then that he was doing this sort of thing.
RPW:This was before that. He could predict that, perhaps.
CE: Yes, and maybe he could see that that was coming. Now, why I’m saying that Senator Bilbo wasn’t as vicious, actually, within as he pretended he was, because there are so many implications, so many incidents where it’s been proven that he was not only a friend to certain Negroes, but he was even intimate with certain Negroes. And it has been rumored that he even had children down in Poplarville now by a Negro woman -
RPW:Yes, I’ve heard that.
CE: - so you see, he couldn’t have been as bad against Negroes as he pretended. But he used this on the ignorant whites because he knew they wouldn’t know any better – that’s what they wanted to hear. And so I’m saying all that to say this, that a lot of times our leaders, our people who are out front, people who are being listened to, will say a thing to please the ears of the listeners. Now, it doesn’t mean he actually feels that way. I could even go to a more recent thing but I won’t do it now because maybe it may hurt him, but I think it is going to be proven even in Mississippi, in the near future, that things that have been said by certain persons were only a means of acquiring certain positions and they really don’t feel that way.
RPW:That’s sometimes said about the present governor.
CE: No comment on that.
RPW:I haven’t asked for a comment. You can strike the record any time you like, you see. It’s very strange, we think of the South as one thing, you know – or Mississippi as one thing, like – yesterday I read the editorial in Commercial – not Commercial Appeal – the Scimitar – of Memphis. It was a fairly intelligent editorial on the civil rights bill. Did you see that editorial?
CE: (not clear)
RPW:It just said this – it said they had better pass this bill because it’s the will of the United States and it’s for the benefit of all. It said so flatly, with no equivocation. A big editorial in a prominent place in the Memphis paper. Right there yesterday. This is not even popular in Jackson, I’m sure.
CE: No, they – you know how the attorney general has already said that if the bill is passed, as far as Mississippi is concerned it never existed.
RPW:Yes, he said that. But now Memphis is not far away, and Memphis -
CE: Two hundred miles.
RPW:- West Tennessee, is in many ways lumped together with north Mississippi, it’s the Delta capital.
RPW:Yet that paper will say that.
CE: But you see – that still goes back to – I tell my people all the time – in Memphis there are many registered Negroes -
RPW:Yes, there are.
CE: - man voting Negroes. Therefore, the politicians and the newspapers are afraid to come out any other way. And until Negroes in Jackson, Mississippi, and Mississippi decide that we are going to become registered voters, these politicians are going to always attorney general when they said this had we had a hundred – the two hundred thousand Negroes voting in Mississippi, he wouldn’t have said that.
RPW:But a few years ago I was down at Glendora, just at the time of the murder of young Melton by Kimball. And later on people there – I interviewed the widow of – just after the event – and I talked with many people in Glendora. The people in Glendora almost to a man were horrified, and they signed a manifesto, you know, expressing this. Yet the trial came along and there was a quick acquittal. We know that story. But in the Clarksdale paper when the acquittal took place, there was a front page editorial saying this was a miscarriage of justice, saying we had flunked it again. Now that man who wrote that editorial in Clarksdale, Mississippi and put it on the front page, was not doing it in a town where Negro voters were in power.
CE: Well, that was an individual.
RPW:An individual, but he had nerve.
CE: A man who had nerve to stand up for his convictions – but there are such a few of them in Mississippi.
RPW:They are few, yes.
CE: Such few. And as I said before, until Negroes get registered and voting you will always find that type – that few – and a scant group who will eventually come out and speak out the truth.
RPW:I’ve heard fifty white men in Mississippi at one time I know say they admired that man. Now, many of those were segregationists by ordinary standards.
CE: You know, it’s a funny thing about this white – Mississippi white man. He admires any man who stands up for what he believes. Now, they admired Medgar – sure they admired him. They didn’t particularly love him, but they admired him because he stood for what he believed. Now, that’s what I tell my so-called informers and snitchers and Uncle Tomes, we call them – that no one respects that type of man. No one respect you. I believe in any man, and that’s why, when I go all over this country, people criticize me when I say that in Mississippi we are freer than Negroes are in Chicago and New York. The reason I say that is because we know where this man stands – there’s no question about it. We know what he’s – what to expect of him. In Chicago and New York, you wonder. They rub you down and they grin in your face and they stab you in the back.
RPW:You can project what you said about the admiration of courage in the Mississippi segregationist even, to say that he’s easier to deal with in a way even if he’s putting a gun on you – he still respects you because you’re standing up to him?
CE: That’s right. Sure, I’ve said that, and I’ve always said that, and that’s why – that’s what I live by.
RPW:Then there’s some basis for dealing with him in the end, then?
CE: That’s right. Because, see, once you convert him it will be like when Christ converted Peter, you have a converted man who is on your side. But the sympathizer who will go along and pat you on the back all the time, and feels sorry for you – in the end he will still be patting you on the back doing absolutely nothing. And once we can prove to the Mississippi whites, the staunch segregationists, that what we are fighting for is right and just, then Mississippi will be the best place in the world to live.
RPW:When do you think that crack is going to come, either on or off the record, either way.
CE: It can be on the record – it’s all right – I don’t mind saying it. I think the crack will come when more Negroes and whites become concerned about the state and the nation and realize that what we are doing here is useless and it’s fruitless and it’s going to destroy all of us. And when Negroes become more and more determined to become registered voters and to become recognized and to become accepted, through their own efforts.
RPW:When do you think you can send a Negro to the legislature? Anybody can guess, of course, but how would you date it – approximately?
CE: Well, I would say it would be at least a decade.
CE: I’d say at least that.
RPW:Some say ’70, some say ’68 – you don’t -
CE: No, I doubt that. I think it will be least ten years before we can send a Negro to the legislature, even to the state legislature. Because, you see, whether you want to admit it or not, this is along drawn out thing. We aren’t going to settle for nothing, but we’re certainly going to take time to get it all.
RPW:What does Freedom Now mean with that realization?
CE: Freedom Now -
RPW:Interpret the slogan for as you feel it.
CE: Freedom Now means that we don’t want to wait until tomorrow to start getting the things that we are entitled to.
RPW:To push for it, you mean?
CE: To push for the things we are entitled to. We are going to push for them now. We are going to ask for them now. And we hope to get some reaction – some favorable reaction now. But we know that no social change comes over night, but for God’s sake start making some change.
RPW:Yet I have encountered people – mostly, I must say, younger Negroes, who would say no time is going to be involved – tomorrow morning or not at all. Now or never. Now or death, you see. Or another type would say, well, I know it takes time but I just can’t bring myself to say so.
CE: Well, actually – you said you said they are young people, and they – I’m glad to hear them say that because it lets me know that they are willing to go out and fight for what they believe. But they will learn, as all of us have learned, that nothing comes today. Even the birth of a child, it takes nine months to mature – seven to nine months. To become a man, it takes from one to twenty-one years.
RPW:Or one to never, sometimes.
CE: Or one to never. So, you see, it’s a thing that we must – but it doesn’t mean that we aren’t growing every day. It means – it doesn’t mean that we aren’t getting – our eyes aren’t becoming open and we’re not being able to walk, we’re not being able to crawl or walk to talk. Every day we get something new. But it – there’s no point of us fooling ourselves. Nothing comes now. But we want some action now, and we want to start working in the direction of freedom now. And I think that – this is my interpretation of it – I can’t speak for anyone else – now that has to be clear – that Freedom Now means that we are not going to sit by – hours by any longer and not do anything about the injustice that has been inflicted on the Negro and minority groups. We’re going to demand that we have the right to register and vote now – not tomorrow, but now. And let’s start getting the Negroes registered voters now. And if we can’t get it, we’re going to use every legal means possible to get our rights. That’s my interpretation. Maybe I’m wrong, as I said before – it’s just like if I would go out and call my wife up and say, look, I want a whole chicken for dinner – now. Well, I’ve got to be a might big eater to go and eat a whole chicken with all the trimmings. But what I mean is, prepare the chicken and I’ll eat all I want and all I can now, and then tomorrow I’ll eat the rest, and the next day eat the rest. But I that there’s no point in fooling ourselves that – you just don’t get it now. But we’re going to have some effort – we want some compensation – we want part of it now. I’m willing, and Medgar was willing to make progress – not drag our feet but as hurriedly as possible.
RPW:This is an important point to have on the record from a person in your position, because it’s misinterpreted by both Negroes and white people sometimes. The slogan is taken as more than a slogan, it’s taken as a notion of abolishing the historical process entirely, you see. It sometimes is – and the white man will say, it’s impossible and therefore resists. The Negro student usually a student will say, it means now – we’re going to have it tomorrow morning or there’s going to be blood in the streets.
CE: Well, as I said before, neither one of us never appreciated and we never did advocate violence, and I still say that.
RPW:Yes, I know your views on that.
CE: And I still say that it’s going to take time, but we’re not going to sit and wait for time to solve our problem. I don’t want anybody to get that impression. But we’re going to fight for everything that’s ours – now. But we know it’s going to take time to acquire. I’m building a brand new home here. I can’t build it today or tomorrow – it’s going to take time. But every day they’re working on the house. And I want that house completed – I don’t want to wait no hundred years to complete the house – don’t get me wrong – but I know they can’t build the house and complete it tomorrow. I don’t care how much money it costs -
RPW:There’s no magic.
CE: - how much money – I’d say here, here’s a hundred thousand dollars, I want my house built tomorrow. That doesn’t mean a thing. It’s going to take time.
RPW:There’s no magic.
CE: There’s no magic. And that’s the same thing with our rights. We want progress every day – something – and we don’t make no bones about it – we want progress every day.
RPW: I was talking a few weeks ago with a young lady who is extremely brilliant. She is second in her class in law school at Howard University. And we were sitting having lunch with a group, and she started the conversation and said to me, I have more hope working out a way of life here in the South – this was in Washington where we were talking – and she has been all over the South – she’s been in picket lines, she’s been in jail – she’s been through it – she says, I’ll have more hope of working out a decent arrangement here than I have in the North. She says Detroit and Chicago and New York scare me to death. She said, at least, there’s something in common in the background, the common history of the Negro in the South and the white man in the South. She said, we have some understanding, some recognition of each other as some human shared history. She said, this seems something to build on even if the policeman is shooting at you. Does that make any sense to you?
CE: It does. It does make sense. As I said before, when you break down these walls of the staunch segregationist, I still believe that you have more assurance of a lasting freedom than you will have in the pseudo-type they have in the North. I have to agree on that, and I think, regardless of how much I’m different – I feel differently from the others, that’s my belief, and a man has to have a belief. We’ve always had that. That’s why Medgar and I were willing to stay in Mississippi and die in Mississippi. But we feel that there is a hope for Mississippi, and there’s a chance that some day that Mississippi will be a better place to live for all people.
RPW:I wish you’d speak now to any point that’s on your mind- anything that’s on your mind. Let me drop questioning and you just say what you – anything that happens to occur to you that you think is important to say.
CE: Well, the most important thing that I would like to say in my closing – and I guess this is a closing -
CE: is that I hope and pray that the day will come when Negroes and white alike in Mississippi can sit down and negotiate their differences and draw – reach some conclusion without interference from agitating whites as they may call us and agitating Negroes too if they think that we’re – some segregationist groups agitate. And I hope and trust that a line of communication can be established between the political powers, structures of our city and our state and the local citizens. And when that day comes, then and not until then will things in Mississippi or any place else be accepted by the masses and enjoyed by all. That’s about all I have to say. I hope -
RPW:Do you think there’s a – say the power structure, as it’s called, of Jackson, were to decide to negotiate you could trust them to negotiate?
CE: Well, I – as I said -
RPW:If they decide now they won’t negotiate this.
CE: Well, I believe if they decide they will negotiate, I always believe a man is innocent until he’s proven guilty. If they will sit down and say they will do something, I’d be the last man to say they wouldn’t do it. I believe that they have the conviction and the courage to they are fighting, and say they aren’t going to negotiate with us. And I think they should see it – deem it necessary to negotiate, I do believe that they would do some of the things they say. It has been proven. They said they would give us six policemen and they gave them and we got them. They didn’t give them to us because of violence and if we would do them, but they did do what they said. They said they would give us eight crossing guards and we got them. So you see, it’s one thing about the Southern white man – those who are in position – in most cases once he says he’ll do something, if you can get him to stand up and say he’ll do it – not in all cases, mind, but in most cases – if he’s a leader or he’s in a position to make decisions – once he commits himself you can just about trust what he says. Not in all cases, now – but in most cases. You can just about trust him, because he’s going to fight so hard to not to do it, and I found out one thing about some of them – now, like in writing, I like to be sure the emphasis is on this – I’m not speaking of all – that if they give you their word – they hate to be made out of a liar.
RPW:You mean, by the time they stand up and make the agreement they have already crossed the line – that is, within themselves?
CE: I think so – I think so. Now, they aren’t going to give in until they have to – that’s one thing for sure. We never would have got the police here unless they saw it as deemed necessary. We’d have been fighting yet. But they found that they had no choice and that we were not going to stop until they gave us something. And this is not all we want. We want more. As I said before, I’m a great believer in that things are just not done over night, but give us some of it every day and every week and I think we’ll be able to get along. Because bloodshed has never solved any problems. I think a good example of violence is Birmingham. Birmingham was the worst disaster – the worst thing that could ever happen in America. And actually, the whole line of communication has been destroyed among the whites and the Negroes and no one is getting any place. They’ve got to get together in Birmingham and in Jackson and in Tougaloo and in Greenwood and Clarksdale. You’ve got to be able to get together on the local level and solve their problems among themselves. And until that day comes it’s going to be a hard place to live, it’s going to be critical for people to -
RPW:That is, a federal troop solution is not a solution, then, you say – is that it?
CE: Well, to tell the truth –
RPW:By itself, I mean.
CE: By itself – no. It’s good in some instances – it’s good to have for protection.
RPW:I can believe that.
CE: But what we’re going to have to have in Mississippi and anywhere is an understanding and a feeling and will to accept each other on the local level. Now, sometimes troops may help to bring about that but I still say troops won’t change the hearts of people and won’t change the minds of people, but I think that if we continue to push for what we are pushing for and stay right and keep on fighting the way we are fighting now, that there are many hearts going to change and when those hearts are changed, then Mississippi is the best place in which to live.
RPW:But troops sometimes change hearts a little bit, don’t they?
CE: Yes – I agree with that. And also it’s good protection. I feel that we’ll need troops in Mississippi before this thing is over. I hate to think that, but I do feel we’re going to need troops here. We need federal protection now.
RPW:Well, you needed troops in Oxford.
CE: Yes. We need federal protection now. Why I said the troops have to change something different on that, because once they get to know the Negro – sometimes troops can help them to get to know the Negro because it gives them a chance to associate and mingle with them and then they begin to know us, because even the Northern whites – a lot of them don’t them – most of them don’t know the Negro. You have your ghettoes and your Negro sections and your white sections, the same as you have here. Look at the trouble they’re having. So you see, it’s a fact of lack of understanding among both races throughout this country of ours, what’s causing this hassle and this turmoil. And until, as I said before, hearts are right – and the churches can play a great part in this, in making people understand that they are human beings and they’re individuals and every man has the right to be respected and looked upon as an individual.
RPW:How much of the churches in the South are losing their hold on the younger people now?
CE: I don’t have that – I couldn’t say, and be accurate in it – but I can say -
RPW:Sure – nobody has statistics.
CE: - but I can say that – this, that I think the churches themselves are losing some of the younger people because of the lack of interest that is shown towards the movement, and a lot of them are very reluctant to speak out and to give the youth a hand and give them a leadway to go out and to do things. Therefore, they are turning from – some of them are losing memberships, and they’re turning from the church to the civil rights movement because of the activities there.
RPW:Negro colleges have been in a very peculiar position sometimes, too.
CE: Yes – state colleges, yes. But your private institutions have been very helpful. The state colleges, naturally, are controlled by the state segregationists – the power structure – and they use that as a weapon to keep the officials of the colleges suppressed, because, now if you do this you won’t have a job. As I said before, in my previous statement, that most persons are concerned about themselves, especially those in high echelons, and they won’t give up their personal things in order to – and sacrifice themselves in order to benefit others. Therefore, they have the state official aid to control our state institutions – so far – but that isn’t going to last much longer, either, because the people are beginning to realize that – I don’t have anything anyway, so what have I got to lose. And that’s about the attitude they’re taking.
RPW:This has been great.
CE: Thank you, very much.
RPW:It’s been very valuable.
CE: Thank you. I hope it can be of some -
RPW:Well, it will certainly be useful – extremely useful.
TAPE 2 CONTINUED Searchable TextCollapse
[These digitized texts are based upon 1964 typed transcripts of Robert Penn Warren’s original interviews. Errors in the original transcripts have not been corrected. To ensure accuracy, researchers should consult the audio recordings available on this site.]
Box 10 – Charles Evers – Tape 2
(With Neal Goldschmidt)
N. GOLDSCHMIDT: Yes – seriously – really extraordinary incidents
because we’ve had an attorney general who says he doesn’t want to obey the civil rights law – at least, that’s the way I understand it – it’s been related to me – and the mayor of the city wants a million dollars to put up a stockade in which he can put Negroes who cause trouble – sort of like Leander Perez – and a series of other things. They have a new bill introduced in the legislature in which a man says it will make enough trouble for people that are trying to register under a separate election procedure now required by the federal – elimination of federal poll tax – so that they’ll go ahead and pay their poll taxes – he calls it giving people more opportunity to participate in state government – a series of most really extraordinary things. And now of course they’ve got a bill to harass us because their selective campaign has been effective – they have a bill to do that in the legislature. They have another bill that just passed – or it was just introduced – I think it passed one House – that allows the transfer of police personnel from one county to another county, wherever there’s a disturbance – it’s extraordinary –
RPW:Yes, I read that this morning or last night –
NG: - not a dissent – they don’t get a dissent in that legislature.
CE: You see, the thing of it is, as I was telling him before, until this type of thing is stopped – and I keep saying, until Negroes are given the right and the privilege to register and vote, we won’t be able to control this unless
Now, if the state can enact laws that are contradictory to the federal government, what good is a federal government law? Now that’s what is happening now. And everything that the federal government says, the state of Mississippi can go right over their head and do something different. And the federal government stands idly by and lets them do these thing.
NG: It takes a long time to litigate these important –
CE: You see – now, you ask what could the federal government do – I should have said this – the federal government – I feel that the Negro in Mississippi is on his own. Number one, he has no local protection, number two, he has no county protection, he has no state protection, and now we find he has no federal protection. Because the only case that we have won in Mississippi against a registrar or any other Mississippian, was down at Hattiesburg against Theron Lynn- who refused to register Negroes. Now then, the federal government had him cold handed and they couldn’t put him away. And he’s still down there – registering – I mean, he’s taking the applications under protest. And and different ones on the picket on the court house in Hattiesburg.
NG: He’s flaunting them –
CE: And I imagine he is. And so you see, then, what future, or what protection can a Negro - say, well I know someone is with us in Mississippi. So that’s what a fight we’re up against. And that’s why I think that the world should admire Negroes, especially Mississippi Negroes, who are willing to continue to fight for their rights without violence. Because we have no law that says a Negro can even get a drink of water. I was down to the state building last week, and all over the state building – white, whites, white only, white only – the water fountain, the wash room – white – nothing for Negroes. I was down to the city jail – the city police department – everything there said white only – nothing for Negroes.
NG: A really extraordinary example of that was they didn’t get a drink downstairs but there’s also a restaurant in the basement, isn’t there – I hear stories that there’s a snack bar some place around there in the capitol, and some people went over there and it said, you know – section for whites, section for Negroes. And the man who runs the place, I guess – this little snack bar – is blind and can’t see. It’s really very funny. The sad thing is, you see, that anything – anybody who knows Mississippi and reads the laws that the legislature passes, knows that – what they’re for. I mean, they’re couched in really grand language, but their legal implications are simply as another tool to harass the Negroes. Now, they’ve just increased some of the fines that can be levied for a minor felony – you know, for minor breach of peace and that sort of thing. It’s obviously directed at Negroes because they’re levied by local judges and the difficulties of appealing these are extraordinary high. We paid something like fifteen hundred dollars in traffic fine harassments last fall – on charges – he was pushed through a traffic light and had been given a ticket for it. I mean, people won’t believe it, but it happens. We just haven’t got the legal tools, with three attorneys in the state that will take civil rights cases.
RPW:Where were you pushed through the traffic light?
CE: In Clarksdale.
RPW:Oh, in Clarksdale.
CE: Clarksdale, yes. And then, another thing, even here, where they tail you. They get right on your tail – right on your tail, and they follow you everywhere you go – everywhere you go. Well, even the – they had the highway safety patrol – he’s bound to make a mistake if somebody tails you, right on your tail all the time. You’re bound to make a mistake – you’re bound not to give the correct – proper turn signal at the proper distance. Or you’re bound to, maybe, drive one mile over the twenty mile speed limit – they follow you along on a – or you’re bound to stop suddenly because of something to curtail or to prevent an accident. So you see, all the time when they’re around he’s bound to give you a ticket. And that’s why I don’t drive anywhere in my car – I usually go in a cab or I ride with someone else – because it’s a police state – Mississippi is a police state. And it’s police against Negroes.
NG: I think that the thing that’s going to happen is that the good whites in Mississippi are going to have to learn that the very laws they are passing are actually being used against them
BOX 10 - Charles Evers – Tape #2 – Supplement
in many ways. Now, we know of one specifically, and I think
liquor law that they don’t realize how badly they’re losing on it, because what happens is they have – liquor is supposed to be – this is supposed to be a prohibition state, they bring liquor to the state and they tax it. Now, the people who sell it are paying kick-backs constantly to the police. It’s one of the most extraordinary extortion rackets I’ve ever seen. Now, the Negroes do it as well as the whites. But it’s a great tool against civil rights because those Negroes who feed civil rights people on credit, those Negroes who will rent their buildings space to them, are immediately pigeon-holed by the police and they say, now look, you’re selling liquor, and you’re going to lose that liquor and we’re going to throw you in jail if you do anything more like that. So they try to shut off all the spigots they can for help in the Negro community and they try to isolate the civil rights movement, and then they say, you see the Negro community won’t even support it. But the fact of the matter is they also do this to the whites, to the poor whites and to the whites who don’t know any better. And it’s really just a very few people in the power structure who would like to keep it this way. Not just Citizens Council people but I mean, you know, there are a few others I’m sure that would like to keep it that way. But it’s a very sad situation because they use this as a tool in a police state. It is an absolute police state. It can be used against the whites. As it was, when one of the churches in Jackson wanted to integrate, they wanted Negroes to come in. They had a vote and they said, let them come in. Now, the mayor of Jackson says we have no special policy of segregation, but when they tried to integrate those churches they were arrested on the steps for trespassing, and it wasn’t because the church asked them to be arrested, no matter what the mayor said. Because the people in that church will say so. And we have lost – what – about sixteen ministers in Jackson whose congregations sent them home – sent them out – because they could do that. They didn’t want to integrate. We finally had one that voted to integrate, and the mayor said uh-uh. One minute he gets on the stand and says we have no official policy, and the next minute he turns around and arrests anybody who tries to do something about it.
RPW:Do you mean the ministers were sent away because they would not integrate – is that it – or because they –
NG: They wanted to integrate – when we finally did find one church in Jackson that would – the congregation voted on it – it was close, but the people would have accepted it very peacefully – this is the sad thing – instead of the church interfering in the state – we now – the situation in Mississippi, where the state’s policy is interfering in the church, and I think the ministers are becoming very concerned, but it’s – you know – it’s something I don’t know what they can do about it. Anything that – any time you mention a bi-racial committee or anything else, you’re a communist in Mississippi. Any time you talk about free speech you’re a communist in Mississippi. Any time you talk about integration, you’re a communist. They have this tremendous blind spot about world affairs and about the integration question that just can’t be overcome, and religion has just been unable to touch it. And when you do find a situation that will touch it, and the state becomes afraid they’ve got a chink sort of in the armor, they smash it – they smash it as fast as they can. The parks – I mean, you just name it – anything you say – they say it’s open to the public – in fact, the police chief will arrest anybody who tries to use it.
CE: Any Negro.
NG: Any Negro. Well, in fact, any white who is with a Negro – I mean, that’s the same goes in. This is the situation we had at the beaches down in Gulfport a couple of years ago – the very same thing – a similar situation.
RPW:I don’t want to keep you all indefinitely. This is the end of Tape #2 of Mr. Charles Evers. The other voice that has come in is Mr. Neal Goldschmidt –
CE: He’s on public relations.
RWP:Public Relations, NAACP, Jackson, February 17.
(end of interview)