Production Team: NA
Interview Date: 1979
Camera Roll: 0
Sound Roll: 0
Produced by Blackside, Inc.
Housed at the Washington University Film and Media Archive, Henry Hampton Collection.
Interview with Patricia Harris, 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.
THIS IS PAT HARRIS. PAT, MAYBE YOU CAN JUST, UM, WHAT WAS IT LIKE TO UM, WELL, HOW OLD WERE YOU AND HOW DID YOU FEEL BEING IN THOSE DEMONSTRATIONS?
Well, I was, uh, like I say I was about eight, maybe, well maybe ten, around the age of ten when I started. And really it wasn't of great significance to me at that time per se as to what was really going on… and I remember um, seeing the, the f-the um, segregated fountain should I say, like black here and white here and uh… schools for black and schools for white, but you know bein' so young
PAT, WHAT WAS IT LIKE BEING INVOLVED IN DEMONSTRATIONS AND HOW DID YOU GET INVOLVED?
Well, my mother she had been involved and as I became old enough she talked to us about it, to find out how we felt about being discriminated against. So, you know, she started takin' us to the meetings and listenin' to what we were going through actually. I didn't really even know it, that it was really happenin' at that time. But when she started takin' us there, and we, you know, could hear what was happenin' and then beginnin' to see what was happenin', I felt that uh, I didn't want to, you know, live the rest of my life facin' a situation of this sort. So, uh, we got involved in the movement and started several uh, marches, you know, for freedom, and our right to do everything that the white man did. And, you know, I remember this particular time that I went to a doctor's office and my mother, she carried me but I, like I say, I didn't really know the significance about you know, black go here, and white go here until I walked in the wrong door and it was white in there, but you know, I didn't think nothin' of it until um some white kids started laughin' and, and sayin', "What's she doin' in here?" And then I thought well, this is one of those places that I had been hearin' about, you know. That, you know, you had to go in your door and not in the white door. So, you know, I was very young, and I felt that I wanted to do anything that I could, you know, to help better, you know, the conditions, the standards of livin' for the black people. So, that's mainly the way I got off into it. You know, as a whole, just from being, you know, with, bein' around people that were already involved, you know, and just listenin' and following up on it, you know, I got more and more involved in it myself and the youth even got an organization of their own. You know, we had a youth movement that we would talk and discuss different things and we would go out, we would sing, you know. And just sing for freedom actually it was all involved with freedom songs and you know and, we'd march and we uh, wear our signs as to equal rights and this type thing, is what we were really lookin' for. And we would get talked about you know and… the people on the street would look at, look at us as if we were, you know, some type of trash, you know. But that didn't stop me as a matter of fact, I thought it was, you know, quite fun you know, to uh, be able to sort of get the point over that you wanted to and try to make things better. You know, this place at least a better place to live in. Mmm-hmm.
HOW OLD WERE YOU AND WERE YOU INVOLVED IN ANY OF THE SERIOUS VIOLENCE?
Well, not… I were, I was about nine or ten, but I wasn't involved in any of the serious violences but um, I could have been, but at the pa-particular times that I was, it was happenin' somewhere else where I wasn't at that time. But you know, I know about ‘em and my mother and my brother they were involved in ‘em, you know, they were locked up, they were, dogs were put on ‘em and water was skeeted on ‘em, and this type thing. But at that time, I guess by me bein' so young, my mother just didn't want to get me off into it. But I'm sure I could have been. Because she was. But the serious violence, no I wasn't. I wasn't involved in that. But just, you know, the verbal abuse, you know, is mainly what I bec—-you know, came in contact with. No physical, no physical contact, just verbal.
HOW DID YOU REACT TO THAT?
Well, it hurt, you know. True enough, you know and uh, I'm… you know the type of person that you know, I can take a whole lot you know and like today, you know, bein', my occupation bein' a nurse, I still see some of the things happenin, workin' with the white people. They call me nigger names, you know. And this type thing. But I've been around it long enough to, to understand the importance of not getting angry about it, but just trying to do things to make it better. You know. Just trying to um, keep working at it until you get people to realize that, you know, God put us all here, you know, you know, to live in a equal way you know. But I felt, you know, real bad about it and it hurt to know that you know, you had certain water fountains to drink from and certain schools you could go to, certain places you can visit, you know. But, I just had confidence that one day it would be better. And I think it's better. It is a little better now. Even though you still run into some of the same things that happened then.
COULD YOU, COULD YOU TRY AND LOOK AT ME THE WHOLE TIME YOU TALK TO ME.
Oh yeah, ok.
AND TELL ME DO YOU THINK IT HAD ANY UM, ANY EFFECT ON YOU?
Well let's see.
HAVING LIVED THROUGH THAT PERIOD AND PARTICIPATING IN THE WAY THAT YOU DID.
Uh, you mean, like had an effect on me now as to the way I feel about
THE WAY YOU FEEL ABOUT LIFE OR BIRMINGHAM OR…
Well, it had some…
WE'RE GONNA HAVE TO—SORRY. UM, DO YOU THINK UH, WHAT KIND OF EFFECT DID UH, DID YOUR PARTICIPATION HAVE ON YOU?
Um, let's see. Well, I'm sure like most of the black people feel, you know, very envious you know, toward the white people, ‘cause mainly you know, this is what the thing is about black and white, you know, gettin' together and workin' together and uh, sharin' things equally so, you know it had to have a, a big effect on me knowin' that uh, we were treated this way and why we were treated this way because we were looked upon as bein' you know, less than what the white man was, so… you know, it had an effect on me as wanting to really let them know that we are just as good as you are, you know and that things that you do we should be able to do ‘em also and that we shouldn't be ran over or discriminated against because of the color of our skin. But you know, as far as me wanting to get out, well I guess there have been times that I did want to get out and do some of the things that I had been told that were done to us, you know. I would have liked to have seen it happen to them, even though I never felt that myself… you know, would do it, but I've wanted to see it done. I would have loved to have seen it done to them, to let them see, you know, and feel some of the torments, you know, that we had to go through, you know. And just from bein' young and lookin' at it and seein' it happen, I, you know, would wonder, why is this happenin', why I mean, what happened to let it be this way in the first place, you know… what ever started the whole thing, you know. But like I say I always have wanted, that's the reason I fought with the movement and marched with them to, to see that things would happen to the white race like it did to us, you know, in order to get back at them for what they had done to us, you know. Just to see justice done, really.
WERE YOU, UH, WERE YOU AFRAID WHEN YOU WERE, WHEN YOU WERE IN THE MARCHES? HOW DID YOU FEEL?
Oh yes. I… I were afraid, you know, like um… a couple times, you know, people that… it was long lines in marches, you know, and something might happen to the people up front that didn't happen to you in the back or something like that. And some of the times that we marched, you know, like some people would be out there and they would throw rocks, they would throw different things at us, you know. I was afraid of getting hurt, you know, per se but still I was willin' to march on to have justice done you know, I was really afraid because, uh, I had seen and heard about the things that could happen, the real bad things how one of these marches can really get out of hand and you know everybody would be fine. You know and I used to often wonder if one, if this broke out, what would I do, you know? Where would I run to, you know. So many people and everybody [ trampeding ] over everybody else, you know. What would happen to me? You know, and yet and still, I knew what was happenin'. I knew the conditions, you know. And yet and still I was willin' to, you know, continue and just go on and… just see what happens. I was willin' to find out you know, what would really happen. So I, I was really afraid, I was afraid. Because like, a lot of things you were called you know, and like I say, the times that rocks and cans and just balls just anything somebody can find, that you know, they would throw it at us and stuff. But you know, I wasn't afraid of this enough to just say, well I don't want to go on any longer, because actually I marched quite a bit. You know. Here in Birmingham. And like when I went to Montgomery and Tennessee and places like this it really wasn't a march then, it was one of the big meetings you know, you know, tellin' us like what we have to do as black race to try to make things better for us, you know. And at this time the police that were around were more for protection to us at this time, more so than against us. You know, they were there to make sure nothin' really break out I think, you know. And this was just, these meetings were just amongst ourselves as to tell us what we need to continue to do to make you know, things better. You know.
WERE YOU LIVING IN BIRMINGHAM AT THAT TIME?
Oh yes. All the time. Right here.
WHAT HAPPENED WITH SCHOOL? DID YOU HAVE TROUBLE IN SCHOOL?
Well, no. At the times I were going, you know, we would g-get out of school. We'd get out of school, going straight down to the movement, you know. Going down wherever they gonna meet, it's whatever church they are going meet at. You know, I might have missed a couple of days out of school when we went out of twon or something like that but it never affected me, you know. Not me, you know. It could have, but it didn't. You know ‘cause it's just something I wanted to do and I had thought about if it came to the point that I would have to repeat a grade, you know, I was willin' to do that because I was seein' more of what was really happenin' the older I got you know I was realizing that, what was happening was really bad and something had to be done about it. You know. So school it didn't really bother me as far as missing school at that time. I didn't really think about it. And my mother was so off into it, you know, because like I say, she had really been treated bad you know. She was one of those probably on a lot of those pictures down in the office that you saw down there? She was involved all in that. So, just…
WHAT HAPPENED TO YOUR MOTHER? DO YOU KNOW ANY OF THE THINGS SPECIFICALLY THAT?
Well I know she was once when…
UH, IF YOU COULD SAY "MY MOTHER."
My mother, when she was down at the, where downtown somewhere at one, at one time you know she was the firehose you know at the time when they were doin' all this, she was… in with that when they skeeted water on all of them, and then you know, the ones that were really being… aggressive, you know, the fighters, the movement workers, they were real aggressive, they even put dogs on ‘em. Well, she wasn't bit by a dog, but she was, one of the uh, victims of the water and after which they took ‘em all and locked ‘em up. They were locked up for not going, you know, when they told ‘em to leave, they wouldn't leave. They were determined to stay there and fight it out. So she was one of the ones that were locked up, you know. She were pushed around, she was pushed around but not really beat on, you know. She wasn't one that even though she was there at the time, you know, she just happened to be one of the lucky ones I think, you know. That didn't get you know, abused, you know like that. But she was put in jail and… water was put on her and everything but…
WHAT DID YOU DO WHILE SHE WAS IN JAIL?
Well I was quite young then. I guess I just stayed at home and just wondered when would she get out you know and really I guess I was really trying to figure out at that time what was really happenin' you know, what was really goin' on and a lot of it, my grandmother kept away from us ‘cause she didn't really want us to worry about what had happened to my mother, but you know, after we did notice she was in jail and my grandmother tried to explain to us what it was all about, you know, it worried me, it upsetted me and I wanted… I did go down there. We went down there to see ‘em, I remember going down there to the jail. To see ‘em but of course they wouldn't let any of us in. To see ‘em at that time, you know, we just stayed outside. I remember going down there, stayin' outside and we would say, we're not leaving until you turn the people loose. And until justice is done we will stay here, and I thought at that time, we were going to get picked up and put in, but they didn't bother us, you know. They told us that we had to go but our leaders would say, no we're not going. You know, so we stayed there, and you know, we waited and waited until finally they let all of the people out that they had locked up, you know.
HOW LONG WAS THAT?
How long did they
HOW LONG WAS SHE…
Oh I… maybe a day, two days something like that. You know, it wasn't long. I don't think. Not this time it wasn't. I think she was locked up twice as I remember correctly she was, but several days I think they had ‘em locked up like that.
OK DO YOU HAVE ANY… WONDERFUL.