Interview with Rutha Mae Jackson and Willie Hill Jackson
Interview with Rutha Mae Jackson and Willie Hill Jackson


Production Team: NA

Interview Date: August 29, 1979
Interview Place: Money, Mississippi
Camera Roll: 18
Sound Roll: 11

Interview gathered as part of Eyes on the Prize: America's Civil Rights Years (1954-1965).
Produced by Blackside, Inc.
Housed at the Washington University Film and Media Archive, Henry Hampton Collection.
Editorial Notes:

Preferred citation:
Interview with Rutha Mae Jackson and Willie Hill Jackson, conducted by Blackside, Inc. on August 29, 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.

INTERVIEW
FILM PRODUCTION TEAM:

Rutha Mae Jackson and Husband. Sound Roll 11, Camera Roll 18

FILM PRODUCTION TEAM:

[This is 29 August, '79. We're in Mississippi. This is Sound Roll 11, Camera Roll 18. This is Cap Cities and Blackside. O.k., this is wild sound of the Tallahachee River to match, I believe, Camera Roll 19- Cut. Second take, wild sound, Tallahachee River. Cut. Third Take. Cut. O.k., Sound Roll 11, Camera Roll 20, Money, Mississippi.]

QUESTION 1
INTERVIEWER:

WERE YOU HERE THEN [unintelligible]?

Willie Hill Jackson:

Mmm-hmmm. Yeah.

QUESTION 2
INTERVIEWER:

CAN YOU TELL ME A LITTLE BIT WHAT HAPPENED?

Willie Hill Jackson:

Well, well, not—-I can't tell you just what happened. All I can tell you is what they said, see, that's all. But ah, he went in the store and whistled at this, at this lady or …

QUESTION 3
INTERVIEWER:

THE BOYS WENT HOME RIGHT, THEY DIDN'T MAKE ANYTHING OUT OF IT. THEY WENT BACK TO THEIR GRANDFATHER'S.

Willie Hill Jackson:

No, they, when he left there they said he went to Greenwood, you know. They, they was on their way to Greenwood anyway, they just stopped by there, so—-and they left there and went to Greenwood, and then they come back home sometime oh, 11:00, 12:00, between 11:00, 12:00 that Saturday night. I think now, I'm not sure. And so this lady's husband wasn't—-wasn't home. He was off on a—oh, I don't know, a vacation or went off on a trip, something like that. And ah, when he come in someone, someone told him what had happened. Then he, he and ah, they say it was some colored fellow was up there. And he got this fella and they went to, to go show him where this, you know, where this boy lived. And they went down there and got him out so. So the boy was missing for what, almost a week, I believe, or about a week.

QUESTION 4
INTERVIEWER:

WHERE'D THEY FIND HIM?

Willie Hill Jackson:

In the Tallahachee River in, ah, Sunflower, no, not Sunflower. In Tallahachee County. I believe that's right.

QUESTION 5
INTERVIEWER:

CAN YOU TELL US YOUR NAME PLEASE, FOR THE CAMERA?

Rutha Mae Jackson:

Rutha Mae Jackson.

QUESTION 6
INTERVIEWER:

AND UH, DID YOU KNOW EMMETT TILL?

Rutha Mae Jackson:

No.

QUESTION 7
INTERVIEWER:

DO YOU KNOW ANYTHING ABOUT—DO YOU KNOW THE STORY?

Rutha Mae Jackson:

No.

QUESTION 8
INTERVIEWER:

BUT WHAT WAS, WHAT WAS MISSISSIPPI LIKE IN '55? THAT'S THE YEAR YOU GOT MARRIED.

Rutha Mae Jackson:

It was nice.

QUESTION 9
INTERVIEWER:

YOUR FAMILY MOVED AWAY AFTER …

Rutha Mae Jackson:

Everybody moved.

QUESTION 10
INTERVIEWER:

WHAT WAS THAT LIKE WHEN EVERYBODY WAS LEAVING? YOU WERE A NEWLYWED?

Rutha Mae Jackson:

No, I hadn't gotten married.

QUESTION 11
INTERVIEWER:

SO, BUT YOU WERE IN LOVE AND …

Rutha Mae Jackson:

Yes.

QUESTION 12
INTERVIEWER:

INVOLVED WITH SOMEONE AND PROBABLY A CRITICAL POINT IN YOUR LIFE.

Rutha Mae Jackson:

Yeah, I got married, at 30 so, '55. That year, in November.

QUESTION 13
INTERVIEWER:

UH-HUH. SO THAT, THAT WAS SOMETHING THAT HAPPENED RIGHT BEFORE YOUR MARRIAGE.

Rutha Mae Jackson:

It happened before I got married.

QUESTION 14
INTERVIEWER:

YEAH. THEY SAY THAT, UH, ROY BRYANT IS STILL LIVING UP THE WAY HERE. IN FACT WE'VE TALKED WITH SOMEONE TODAY, THE LAWYER TOLD US THAT BRYANT WAS LIVING AROUND HERE.

Willie Hill Jackson:

Oh man, I don't know about it. I didn't, I didn't hear anything about that. Ah, I really don't know whether he's still living. I don't see how the way he was loo.k.ing the last time I saw him.

QUESTION 15
INTERVIEWER:

WHAT DID HE LOO.K. LIKE THE LAST TIME YOU SAW HIM?

Willie Hill Jackson:

Woooo, he was nothing but skin and bones, and just loo.k.ed real terrible—like he hadn't eaten in a, in a week or two.

QUESTION 16
INTERVIEWER:

WAS THAT IN THIS AREA?

Willie Hill Jackson:

Oh yeah. Mmm-hmm. At the, uh, café, he used, used to be right up there. Right in, there used to be a café on this side of the road, right there on this side of-—where you see your place is.

QUESTION 17
INTERVIEWER:

WHAT HAPPENED TO BRYANT'S WIFE? DID SHE MOVE AWAY?

Willie Hill Jackson:

I never knowed what happened to her. Never heard from her. Really people don't even—-they don't talk about that. That's something that nobody say a word about.

QUESTION 18
INTERVIEWER:

WHY'S THAT?

Willie Hill Jackson:

Uh, well, it was pretty rough for a Negro to say anything about it in the beginning, you know. So, but the white people they don't even talk about it either. So, nobody says anything about the Emmett Till case. Every once in a while you know, you hear it in the, in the big news, you know, on TV or something like that. Someone might say something about the Emmett Till case, you know, talking. They, well, they mostly be talking about something else, and they'll bring that, you know, the word up. But around here, nobody says anything about it. White or either black.

QUESTION 19
INTERVIEWER:

DO YOU EVER THINK ABOUT IT?

Willie Hill Jackson:

Oh yeah, I think about it, yeah. But that's all, I mean everybody was sorry. I think it hit everybody a pretty hard lick. And really I think a lot of white people saw it too, after. You know, yeah, I think because it was a great big hurt on Mississippi, and it brought, well, it brought a lot of changes. And I, myself, I believe that's the beginning of uh, uh, this uh, Civil Rights Movement here, I believe that started all that, you see. Because really wasn't too much going on in the behalf of civil right, and—-before then. So after then things really got stood up. So that's—-I think that's one of the things that's—-as far as there is today on the civil rights.

QUESTION 20
INTERVIEWER:

IT MUST HAVE TAKEN A LOT OF COURAGE FOR SOME OF THE BLACK WITNESSES TO GO TESTIFY AT THE TRIAL UP IN SUMNER. WE WERE UP AT THE COURTHOUSE TODAY, AND PEOPLE WERE TELLING ME WHAT THAT WAS LIKE. THEY HAD SOME BLACK FOLKS TESTIFY.

Willie Hill Jackson:

Yeah, yeah, I'm sure, uh, well, we don't—-I don't know any—anyone. There wasn't anyone from this area, I don't think, you know, somebody from up there where they—-what they said they did, to mention it, you know up in, out of this county. So …

QUESTION 21
INTERVIEWER:

WHERE WAS NORMAN'S UH, FARM? THE BARN? YOU DON'T KNOW? IT WASN'T IN THIS AREA?

Willie Hill Jackson:

It's in another county, see.

QUESTION 22
INTERVIEWER:

BUT THIS, THIS THING ABOUT THE WITNESSES, THEY MUST HAVE …

Willie Hill Jackson:

They were someone living up in the area too, see, from what I hear, yeah.

QUESTION 23
INTERVIEWER:

THERE ARE A LOT OF THINGS THEY COULD DO TO YOU IN '55, TO SOMEBODY WHO …

Willie Hill Jackson:

Right, there's a lot of things they could do to you. And well, it's—-a lot of things they can do to you now, you know. But things just ain't as bad as it used to be. So, you still get in a lot of trouble, just by this talk here, see. You could. Now you might not, I don't know, but you could. See, I may have to move tomorrow. See, you can't ever tell, once he find out who you all is, what you all doing.

QUESTION 24
INTERVIEWER:

[unintelligible]

Rutha Mae Jackson:

Y'all not putting this on TV are you?

QUESTION 25
INTERVIEWER:

IT WON'T BE ON TV FOR A LONG TIME. IT'LL BE A LONG TIME BEFORE YOU SEE THIS. ARE YOU WORRIED ABOUT IT BEING ON TV?

Rutha Mae Jackson:

Yeah. Cause I have to live here.

QUESTION 26
INTERVIEWER:

WHAT WOULD THAT MEAN TO YOU? I MEAN WHAT DO YOU FEEL WOULD HAPPEN, IF SOMEBODY SEES IT?

Rutha Mae Jackson:

I don't know what might happen.

QUESTION 27
INTERVIEWER:

WHAT ARE YOUR GREATEST FEARS?

Rutha Mae Jackson:

Well, just like you. You'd be afraid to stay here. You don't know what might happen.

QUESTION 28
INTERVIEWER:

HAVE THINGS, YOU KNOW, CONTINUED TO HAPPEN HERE SO THAT BLACK FOLKS ARE, ARE FRIGHTENED TO TALK ABOUT WHAT THEY FEEL AND WHAT THEY SEE?

Rutha Mae Jackson:

Not really. Some—-I imagine some things they be scared to talk about.

QUESTION 29
INTERVIEWER:

O.K..

Willie Hill Jackson:

Well, there ain't too, too much, you know, going on as bad as that. You know, so, so if it come down to something like that, you know, it still might be, you know, a lot of people might, wouldn't want to talk too much about it right off. Even if they know something about it, it's gonna be, they gonna talk slow, because when you're born here and raised here, and you got this in you, see, and it's hard to get it out. So, I mean fearing the white man. So, you know, you gots a lot of people that, from way back you know, from what I've heard and read that they didn't fear them, you know. But those are the main ones, some of the first ones that was dead, see. So anybody that's kind of scared of dying, you know, you gonna be kind of scared to talk about things like that.

QUESTION 30
INTERVIEWER:

MRS. JACKSON, WHY DID YOU AND YOUR HUSBAND DECIDE TO STAY HERE? WHEN YOUR FAMILY LEFT AND YOUR KINFOLKS GOT UP AND LEFT AFTER THAT HORRIBLE THING HAPPENED, WHY DID YOU WANT TO STAY?

Rutha Mae Jackson:

Because his mother's here. All his relatives [are] here. And he didn't want to go now.

QUESTION 31
INTERVIEWER:

DID YOU WANT TO GO?

Rutha Mae Jackson:

Yes.

QUESTION 32
INTERVIEWER:

HOW DID YOU FEEL ABOUT STAYING HERE?

Rutha Mae Jackson:

Well, I felt o.k. Because he was here with me. I felt kind of safe.

QUESTION 33
INTERVIEWER:

AND HOW'S IT BEEN FOR YOU HERE?

Rutha Mae Jackson:

O.k.

Willie Hill Jackson:

Yeah, it's been o.k.. Ah …

Rutha Mae Jackson:

We haven't heard—-you know, we don't hear anything about that anymore since it happened. Not anything.

QUESTION 34
INTERVIEWER:

THERE HAVEN'T BEEN THINGS LIKE THAT LATELY?

Rutha Mae Jackson:

No. No.

QUESTION 35
INTERVIEWER:

IF ANYTHING DID HAPPEN AS A RESULT OF THIS TALK, YOU'D LET US KNOW RIGHT AWAY WOULDN'T YOU?

Rutha Mae Jackson:

Pardon me?

QUESTION 36
INTERVIEWER:

IF ANYTHING DID HAPPEN AS A RESULT OF …

Willie Hill Jackson:

I don't know how. I mean we don't know how to let you know either.

QUESTION 37
INTERVIEWER:

WELL, WE'LL MAKE SURE YOU KNOW WHERE WE ARE. PEOPLE SHOULDN'T SUFFER FROM TALKING THEIR MIND, TELLING THE TRUTH.

Willie Hill Jackson:

No, they shouldn't.

Rutha Mae Jackson:

But they will.

QUESTION 38
INTERVIEWER:

THANK YOU BOTH VERY MUCH.

Willie Hill Jackson:

You're welcome.

QUESTION 39
INTERVIEWER:

CAN UH WE GET YOUR NAMES SO WE CAN SEND YOU A LITTLE SOMETHING FROM BOSTON?

Willie Hill Jackson:

Willie Hill

QUESTION 40
INTERVIEWER:

IF WE JUST SEND IT CARE OF MONEY DOES THAT?

Willie Hill Jackson:

Greenwood, Route 3, Greenwood.

Rutha Mae Jackson:

You all through? Thank you.

QUESTION 41
INTERVIEWER:

THANK YOU.