Interviewer: Carroll Blue
Production Team: A
Interview Date: October 19, 1988
Camera Rolls: 1016
Sound Rolls: 107
Produced by Blackside, Inc.
Housed at the Washington University Film and Media Archive, Henry Hampton Collection.
Interview with Josephine Mayes, conducted by Blackside, Inc. on October 19, 1988, for Eyes on the Prize II: America at the Racial Crossroads 1965 to 1985. 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.
Ms. Mayes, I'd like you to talk to me about the Robinson Plantation, what it was like for you before you were moved off? What kind of duties you had, the kind of life you lived there.
Well, OK, we lived on the plantation. I don't know why, I have to do my hand like that to help me out. OK.
That's all right.
We lived on the Robinson Plantation. And after my brothers had to leave, and then we left, we all left, so I moved to tent city with my husband, where I got married at. And we lived in the tents for about three or four years. And after that we built this house and we bought the land. And um, so it was something that you know, um, it was a great experiment for us after we left home. Where my mama she felt like if, you know, that if she was to leave she wouldn't have anywhere else to go. She couldn't raise the kids, so, without the White man. So after we left, she moved.
OK, Miss Mayes, I'm gonna get back to the plantation in a minute, but I wanted you to talk about your brother and going down to register and I want to you to tell me what happened, you came back home and what went on--
OK, my brother, came back home and the man told him that, you know.
Where did he go before?
Where did he go? He went to register. And the man said, the White man, Mr. Robinson said that, you know, if they registered to vote, they didn't want him on that plantation because they didn't want him with those hoodlums but in a way, and after they gotten back, he gotten back, and he had to leave--
Now wait a minute, let's start all over again, because I want to make sure I get this straight: now, your brother, what's his name?
Now I want you to start telling me from that point--
My brother Willy registered to vote and the man told him that they had to leave after they had become registered voters. So my brother moved to my grandmother and then afterward, we left and after that, my mother, she moved to my grandma. And I moved to Tent City with my husband, and after I moved to Tent City, I become a registered voter.
Now tell me, what was it like in Tent City for you?
In Tent City, it was a great experience for me in Tent City, because it was something that the Blacks had been hidden behind the Whites for so long and that was something that, um, we could, I say, um, make a start for ourselves, and get out and register voters and help others become registered voters and find work for themselves, I put it like that, because there were so many things that those Blacks didn't know about, especially when we become registered voters, we got involved with lots of activities to help Black peoples to get jobs and learn how to do things for themselves like we bought land and then after we got the land, we'd able to have something that we had never had before, our own, and the house was something that you wouldn't have to worry about the White man telling you to move or you have to leave.
What did SNCC do? How did SNCC help you all?
Well, he helped us by helping getting people out to register to vote and finding places for them to live, which was Tent City and, um, he, um, talked to peoples and got jobs, those that they could find jobs for, so after they got jobs and moved their families into Tent City, like Mrs. Glover--
What was she like?
Well, Ms. Glover, she was like the family. She was the mother for the entire family. She was always the one that had plenty energy, ready to go, whatever to be done, she was the mother for everybody because she was always, in rain or shine, cold or hot, she was just ready to move. You know, it didn't get to hot or too cold, it didn't rain to her. She would put on her boots, and she would put on her raincoat, and she would put on her hat and tie up her head and we would laugh at her and call her the old lady in the shoe and she said, "I got so many children I don't know what to do."
What about the Whites? Did they come around? And was it dangerous?
They would come 'round, and they would pull up to the side of the road and they would call us hoodlums--
Now, who would this be?
The White people, they would be mailing us in Tent City and calling us niggers and stuff like that, shoot at us and try to scare us but we wouldn't let them, we hung in there anyways[SIC]. So, you know, like I said, it was just the great experience for me, I say for myself because like I tell my kids now that they got it made, they don't have to do anything but get up and go to school, come back home, they got a place to live and don't have to worry about the White man telling them to get off the place--
Now I wanted you to talk to me about the mass meetings--
OK, the mass meetings, we went to Tripham out to the mass meetings out to Tripham, over in Moses. And, um, down to little church out here, we called, by the schoolhouse, went to mass meetings.
What went on in those meetings?
Well, in the meetings, they were trying to encourage everybody to get out and vote and regis- and become a registered voter and, you know, learn how to do things for themselves, to get off the White man's place, and, um--
Were you ever scared?
Well, because like I said, I believe in God and I always try to put God first in whatever I go to do, and when you put God first, everything will go smooth. And we believe in God and I just wasn't afraid. You know, once we got out, you know, in the mass meetings and learned different things for ourselves, and each time we went we learned something different, like I said, we learned how to do for ourselves and become our own boss and, um, we, um, got jobs, where we wouldn't be afraid, and, also we went to, the peoples in Tuskegee would come down and we, they set up schooling for the people, you know, we went to school, we had classes down here at the little road, the little schoolhouse, we had sewing classes, we had cooking classes, and we had schooling, math, arithmetic, we went to Tuskegee, we, I didn't, couldn't get in to the ballet, but had ballet, had people teaching us ballet dance and--
One thing I want to know about is your mother. Tell me something about your mother.
My mother when she was on the farm, when she was on the farm, she would have had to work for a bale of cotton and a load of corn and at the end of the year, December, they would sell the cotton and most of the time they would get like 75 dollars, 60 dollars, all depends on the price, and the White man would tell her the cotton was, ah, the price was lower at that time. And that what she would get, would have, have for Christmas.
Wait, you're crying. Why are you crying, tell me?
Because it is painful today. My mother had to work so hard and we didn't have anything.
Is this what you were fighting for?
Do you think that you've achieved something?
Yes, I've achieved a lot. Because my kids don't have to go through what we went through.