Matthews, Carolyn: Oral History

Carolyn Matthews was born in 1946 in Philadelphia, MS, which she describes as a normal, quiet, small town.  Her father was a policeman, and her mother was a dressmaker.  Because her parents worked most of the time, she was raised by her grandparents and, after they died, two black maids, whom Matthews considered to be family.  She lived a very sheltered life as a child and was never aware of any violence that took place in town.  She remembers using the white water fountain, sitting in the white waiting room, and attending football games with only white people, but never understood why society was segregated.

Matthews discusses the turbulent years between 1963 and 1968, marked by the assassinations of Pres. John F. Kennedy, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., and Sen. Robert F. Kennedy, and by the start of the Vietnam War.  She was a senior when COFO became very active in Philadelphia but only knew about the civil rights workers because they made her black maids nervous.  And when Goodman, Chaney, and Schwerner disappeared and their car was found, she just assumed it was an isolated incident.  But because her father was the police officer who had been working the radio the day of the three civil rights workers’ arrest, Matthews was well aware of the investigation and the subsequent trials as they progressed.  She even aided the investigation when she overheard a white man bragging about his actions in the bowling alley where she worked.  Because of her and her father’s involvement in the prosecution, the Matthews family suffered some harassment.  After college, Matthews never moved back to Philadelphia.

She spent some time on the Gulf Coast and is now a high school English teacher in McComb, Mississippi.

Carolyn Matthews’s oral history, part one:

Neshoba County – Interview with Carolyn Matthews 01 from Winter Institute on Vimeo.

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