Production Team: NA
Interview Date: 1979
Interview Place: Birmingham, Alabama
Camera Roll: 2-3
Sound Rolls: 2
Produced by Blackside, Inc.
Housed at the Washington University Film and Media Archive, Henry Hampton Collection.
Interview with Don Evans, conducted by Blackside, Inc. in 1979, for Eyes on the Prize: America's Civil Rights Years (1954-1965). Washington University Libraries, Film and Media Archive, Henry Hampton Collection.
These transcripts contain material that did not appear in the final program. Only text appearing in bold italics was used in the final version of Eyes on the Prize.
OK. My name is Don Evans. And uh, I was born in Birmingham, Alabama. I'm thirty years old. I'm uh, an automobile salesman for Adamson Ford here in Birmingham.
[unintelligible background conversation]
SO I JUST WANT TO KNOW THAT YOU WERE FIFTEEN… I WAS FIFTEEN IN 1963, JUST TELL ME ABOUT HOW YOU GOT INVOLVED IN THE DEMONSTRATIONS. AND WHAT IT WAS LIKE.
Well, in 1963, I was fifteen years old and uh, I got involved uh… with the situations that were happening in Birmingham at that time, uh… simply because I guess every black in Birmingham was participating at that time, uh… you had your, your leaders from SCLC, you know and followers and members that were going around to different high schools in Birmingham and some were just taking classrooms, disrupting classrooms and makin' everybody go out in the streets and march. And uh, I got involved that way. And I didn't… I grew up uh, I guess, twelve, thirteen blocks from downtown Birmingham and that's where most of the uh, the riots occurred, so I was just involved. It was the thing to do at that time.
HOW DID YOU FEEL ON THOSE DAYS WHEN THEY HAD THE DOGS AND THE HOSES OUT THERE? WHAT WAS THAT LIKE?
I felt bad. And you know, because uh, it was, an awesome sight, you know, something to behold, you know, see human beings turnin' dogs and hoses, high powered water hoses on other people, you know, simply because they were doin' somethin that they felt was right, you know, and uh, gee whiz, you know, we all a part of this country, you know, and I figured we had a right to do what we were doin', and I guess they felt they had a right to do what they were doin' so… it was terrible, you know. I wouldn't want to go through it again, I would hate to see it happen again.
DO YOU THINK IT HAD ANY EFFECT ON YOU?
Yeah, a tremendous effect. Because uh, you know, having lived through something, participating in it…
UH… MAGAZINE FOUR OK, DO YOU THTNK IT HAD ANY EFFECT ON YOU BEING INVOLVED IN THOSE DEMONSTRATIONS?
Yeah. It did, because uh participating in something, being there, is totally different than reading about it, you know, you can get a unique experience from reading about a tragic story you know, or some strange occurrence, but, but actually bein' there, you know, seein' these things bein' done, and, knowing all the time that you, you don't like it, you know, but there's really nothing you can do about it, but get out there and march and let the dogs bite you and get the water on you and, you know, get the billy-clubs upside your head, and even get killed you know. So, yeah, it had a tremendous effect, really. You know, but uh… I've seen in my lifetime here in Birmingham, I was born raised and reared right here in Birmingham, and uh… except for the school and the army, you know, I spent most of my time right here in Birmingham. And I've seen it go through, I know two, two dramatic changes you know, in the '63 uh, period, the riots you know, that was one tremendous change that Birmingham went through, because you know, it's basically a quiet town, it's, it's a, workin' man's town, church-goin' people, you know, very religious town. So, so to think that that your leaders, right here in Birmingham, your political leaders, your religious leaders could uh, you know, let something like this happen, you know. It was just a tremendous thing, you know, to see that period go, go by. And, and after Dr. King was assassinated, you know, Birmingham went through another change, you know, and instead of progress and the black people, we started shifting backwards. You know and we're still, still doin' it right now. But that's because we don't really have a, a leader, that has the charisma to lead a mass group of people right now, You know, we got brother Jesse Jackson, Abernathy, you know, but… they just don't possess the charisma that Dr. King had, you know, So, uh if we don't get a grip on ourselves, I think that Birmingham will be not exactly like it was in '63, but I think it might come to, to some more you know, fights in the street, here in Birmingham. I, I hope it don't, you know, but things' not gettin' any better. You know it's getting worse, but we're hurtin' our own selves, you know black people doin' black-on-black crime, or you know, I gotta go out there and rape your sister, you gotta rape my sister, you know that type thing. But, if we ever, you know, can ever put it all back together and learn that we gotta unite, stick together, do the things that it take to see one another progress, then I think we'll be OK. But as of right now, it has to change.
WHAT KIND OF THINGS DID YOU SEE IN THOSE DAYS? WHAT KIND OF THINGS DID YOU SEE THAT… MADE YOU FEEL, THAT HAD THE EFFECT ON YOU? I MEAN DID YOU…
You mean physical things?
DID YOU GET WATERED?
Did I get watered? Yeah. I got watered. I didn't go to jail, I got lucky.
OK, TELL ME THAT, I NEVER WENT TO JAIL, BUT I DID GET, I DID GET HOSED, OR WHATEVER,
OK. Well, you know, at that time you, you had, oh I guess, forty fifty thousand people in the street. You know and and you startin' from one point and you are locked arm in arm, you know, singin' "We Shall Overcome" and you're just marchin' down the street. And there you got your front line, you know, which is the… defenseless, and you got guns and dogs and billy-clubs and hoses right in front of you, you know. And, you knowin all this is comin' at you as soon as you, you reach a point you know. But it got so that, you know, you forgot about it. It's kind of like, like bein' in the army, when I was in the army at war time. Uh… you stop thinking about dying. You know, it get past the fear of, of leavin', leavin' there, you know, leavin' everything that's around you. And you reach a point where you realize that, you material things are about nothing. You know, it's about how you feel inside and, I guess, like I said before I don't want to go through it again, but if I had to I would. You know, it I thought that it would have the effect now that it had then, you know. Yeah. But it was a frightening experience to… very frightening. But I've been in tougher situations before. Really.
YEAH, STOP FOR A MINUTE
Well, I think…
JUST LET ME GET, OK I'M SET.
A lot of people left town for the same reason that they left town fifty, sixty, years ago. You know, job opportunities. You know, you go to school four years you know, four years in college. Gee whiz, when I finish, I'll be makin' a lot of money. You know I can have me a fifty, sixty thousand dollar home and a Cadillac, You know, whatever you want. And then you find that after you put forth all this effort, and you go out there and you bam on the doors, and you know the jobs are there, you know, and they tell you "Can't use you." You know, so you have to, you have to go other places. You know, to find the type of jobs that will pay you the type of money that you feel you're qualified for. You know, you have got a lot of people, workin' in job slots now that that could possibly be workin' in job slots that would pay much more, now, you know, than than what they have you know, so you have to take what you can until you can get what you want, you know, so a lot of people don't want to sacrifice the time and effort to stay stagnated in one place, you know. So they figure my opportunities might be better over here, so they go over there. You know, but I, I don't think it's because uh, Birmingham is a dreadful place to live, you know, I think it's simply because of job opportunities.
SOMETHING THAT ONE PERSON SAID TO ME WAS THAT, UM, THEY THOUGHT THAT UH SOME OF THE PEOPLE WHO HAD BEEN INVOLVED IN A DEMONSTRATION AND WHO HAD BEEN ARRESTED AND WHO HAD GONE, HAD TO GO TO JAIL.