Oral History

Benson, John L.: Oral History

Mr. John L. Benson of Moselle tells the story of his family and his great-grandfather, Isom Benson, who donated land in Jones County for building Benson School for African-American children during Jim Crow segregation.

Click here for the video.

This oral history was conducted by April Grayson in Hattiesburg, MS.

Armstrong III, Thomas Madison: Oral History

Thomas Armstrong participated in the Freedom Rides in 1961. He says that one of Ross Barnett’s speeches encouraged him to participate in the Freedom Rides, because Barnett said that Mississippian’s were happy with the present conditions. The video was filmed for the documentary The Children Shall Lead (link).

 

Thomas Madison Armstrong III from Winter Institute on Vimeo.

His oral history may also be viewed here.

Interview Data

Name of Interviewee: Thomas Madison Armstrong III

Date: November 10, 2001

Place of Interview: Jackson, MS

 

 

Time                         Topics/Names/Events Discussed
0:00-2:00 Jackson, MS; Naperville, IL; United States Postal Service; family religious background
2:00-4:00 Family reaction to involvement; Tougaloo College; Ross Barnett; Mary Harrison Lee; arrest at Jackson bus station
4:00-6:00 Jackson City Jail; disturbing the peace charges; trial
6:00-8:00 June 23, 1961; reaction to being in jail; Freedom Songs; “We Shall Overcome”
8:00-10:00 SNCC; voter registration; sit-ins
10:00-12:00 Mississippi Freedom Summer; voter registration; McComb, MS
12:00-14:00 McComb, MS; Freedom Riders; Stokely Carmichael; Julian Young; Martin Luther King, Jr.
14:00-16:00 Kansas City, MO; return to Mississippi; influence of involvement on his life
16:00-18:00 Influence of involvement on his life
18:00-20:00 Involvement since movement; participation

 

Nicholas, Jessie Divens: Oral History

Jessie Divens Nicholas is a native of McComb, Mississippi. She grew up with her three siblings and her mother. Her father died in the army. Her mother, Ruth Divens, worked as a business woman, which allowed her to encourage her children to participant in the Civil Rights Movement during the 1960s. Her mother would house Civil Rights workers, and Nicholas recalls conversations her mother had with leaders such as C.C. Bryant.

As a result of her participation in the Burglund High School Walkout at 12 years old, Nicholas was forced to attend school in Jackson, MS along with others who were arrested. She attended Christ the King Catholic School. During Freedom Summer (1964), Nicholas taught adults how to read so they could fill out forms. She also followed Robert ‘Bob’ Moses during his rounds and helped him. In addition, her step-father lost his job because of Nicholas’ part in the movement. She went to jail for refusing to give up her seat to a White woman, and she also spoke her mind to a judge with the permission of her mother. Nicholas helped to integrate the school, but after two days, she refused to return before the names she was called and the treatment she received. She also helped to integrate the movie theater but refused to go back. In these videos, we see the place Nicholas’ mother had in Nicholas’ involvement in the movement and her desire to have the youth learn about McComb’s part in the Civil Rights Movement.

Jessie Divens Nicholas’ oral history, part one:

Pike County – Jessie Divens Nicholas 01 from Winter Institute on Vimeo.

Jessie Divens Nicholas’ oral history interviews can also be found here.

Source:

William Winter Institute for Racial Reconciliation

Hale, Johnnie: Oral History

Johnnie Hale grew up in Sumner, Mississippi. He remembers Emmett Till’s murder and the boy’s mother’s request for an open-casket. Hale later moved to Detroit, Michigan, where race relations were not much better than they had been in Sumner. He had trouble finding a job and witnessed the infamous race riots. He believes it is vital that young people know about black history so as not to repeat the past.

Mr. Hale’s oral history, part one:

Tallahatchie County – Interview with Johnnie Hale 01 from Winter Institute on Vimeo.

Part one of Mr. Hale’s oral history can also be viewed here.

Nixon, Sandra: Oral History

Sandra Nixon participated in the Freedom Rides in 1961. This video was filmed for the documentary The Children Shall Lead (link).

Sandra Nixon from Winter Institute on Vimeo.

Her oral history may also be viewed here.

 

Interview Data

Name of Interviewee: Sandra Nixon

Date: November, 2001

Place of Interview: Jackson, MS

 

 

Time                         Topics/Names/Events Discussed
0:00-2:00 Desire Housing Project, New Orleans; Isaac Thomas; child protection services, New Orleans
2:00-4:00 Fergus & Cecilia Pierre; family history; Southern University; Castle Haley; Doris Haley; Jerome Smith
4:00-6:00 CORE New Orleans; nonviolence training; father WWII vet
6:00-8:00 Family apprehension; May 30, 1961 trip from New Orleans to Jackson, MS by train; arrest
8:00-10:00 Charged with breach of peace; arrest; Jackson City Jail; Hinds County Jail; Parchman Penitentiary; conditions in Parchman
10:00-12:00 Parchman experiences; “Oh Freedom”
12:00-14:00 Personal experience; Strive Towards Freedom, Martin Luther King, Jr.; Southern University
14:00-16:00 New Orleans; Jerome Smith; Aretha Haley, Doris Castle; CORE demonstrations; New Orleans City Hall
16:00-18:00 Legacy of involvement
18:00-20:00 Legacy of involvement, movement

 

Corstarphen, Lillie: Oral History

Lillie Corstarphen grew up in the rural area of Pike County on a farm with her family. She grew up with five brothers, five sisters, and her parents. Despite farming the land for someone else and living below the poverty line, Corstarphen says that she was never poor because of her family and had a good childhood. When Corstarphen was to enter the ninth grade, her family moved to McComb, Mississippi, where she attended Burglund High School, now Higgins Middle School. After graduating from high school, Corstarphen moved to Ohio where she stayed a few years until moving back to McComb, Mississippi. In these videos, Corstarphen recalls the horrors of racism in McComb during segregation and the progress McComb has made since that time.

Part one of Lillie Corsatrphen’s oral history:

Pike County – Lillie Corstarphen 01 from Winter Institute on Vimeo.

Part one of Lillie Corstarphen’s oral history can also be found here.

Source:

William Winter Institute for Racial Reconciliation

 

Nichols, Ajatha: Oral History

Ajatha Nichols grew up in a family of four in Philadelphia, Mississippi. Throughout her education she experienced integration, the murders of the civil rights workers, and the gaining of voting rights for black Americans then expresses her feelings toward the events. Ajatha explains how she got involved in the civil rights movement through her mother. She explains how her mother made her take part in the integration of a white school her senior year. Although she says she did not witness any violence Nichols divulges that the experience was still hard and different. She also talks about a program she participated in that gave her new perspective on race relations. Ajatha Nichols then talks about Philadelphia’s present racial situation, highlighting the shortcomings of the education system. She also speaks on she and her husbands dealings with white co-workers. Nichols says that it is important to be able to adjust to changes while still being true to yourself.

Ajatha Nichols’ oral history, part one:

Neshoba County – Interview with Ajatha Nichols 01 from Winter Institute on Vimeo.

Part one of her oral history can also be viewed here.

Willis, Larry: Oral History

A Delta native, Larry Willis talks about his involvement with the civil rights movement and the Emmett Till murder. He explains the happenings associated with the trial such as how people would react when someone black would try to share an opinion or attend the trial. Willis also talks about his opinions on the reopening of the Emmett Till case as well as his opinions on some elected officials.

Mr. Willis’s oral history, part one:

Tallahatchie County – Interview with Larry Willis 01 from Winter Institute on Vimeo.

Part one of his oral history can also be viewed here.

Singleton, Robert: Oral History

Robert Singleton participated in the Freedom Rides in 1961. He describes being arrested in Jackson and the conditions in the city jail. The oral history was filmed for the documentary The Children Shall Lead (link).

 

Robert Singleton from Winter Institute on Vimeo.

 

His oral history may also be viewed here.

Interview Data

Name of Interviewee: Dr. Robert Singleton

Date: November 8, 2001

Place of Interview: Jackson, MS

 

Time                         Topics/Names/Events Discussed
0:00-2:00 Philadelphia; Los Angeles; UCLA; Army
2:00-4:00 Sit-ins; President of UCLA NAACP; CORE; family background; South Carolina
4:00-6:00 Family concern
6:00-8:00 UCLA; raising bail money; New Orleans orientation; Jackson
8:00-10:00 Arrest; Jackson City Jail; Hinds County Jail; Parchman Penitentiary
10:00-12:00 Parchman; Deputy Tyson; singing in jail
12:00-14:00 Deputy Tyson
14:00-16:00 Parchman experience
16:00-18:00 LA Woolworth’s boycotts
18:00-20:00 Reflections on experience
20:00-22:00 New Orleans; Freedom Songs
22:00-24:00 Parchman experience
24:00-26:00 Release from Parchman; Philadelphia; UCLA
26:00-28:00 Returning home; LA City Schools cases; Serrano vs. Priest; continued education
28:00-30:00 Posterity needs access to this information

 

Kotz, David: Oral History

David Kotz was a volunteer working for COFO (Council of Federated Organizations) during the summer of 1964. After twelve hours of being in Mississippi, Kotz and five other volunteers were left in charge of the COFO office in Meridian, while Goodman, Chaney, and Schwerner went to Philadelphia to investigate the burning of Mt. Zion. After their bodies were discovered, Kotz continued to work in Mississippi, albeit reluctantly. He discusses the reaction of many civil rights leaders to the inaction of the FBI as well as the memorial for the three men, which he attended.

David Kotz’s oral history, part one:

Neshoba County – Interview with David Kotz 01 from Winter Institute on Vimeo.

Part one of his oral history can also be viewed here.