Production Team: NA
Interview Date: August 28, 1979
Interview Place: Montgomery, Alabama
Camera Roll: 13-15
Sound Rolls: 8-9
Produced by Blackside, Inc.
Housed at the Washington University Film and Media Archive, Henry Hampton Collection.
Interview with Gussie Nesbitt, conducted by Blackside, Inc. on August 28, 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 will be Mrs. Nesbitt walking.]
The bus stop… Not yet?
WHAT WAS IT LIKE BEFORE THE BUS BOYCOTT?
It was uh, we had to get on the bus, when we worked all day, and we didn't uh, couldn't… couldn't sit down. And we got on the bus, if we got on the bus, we had to get up—they put us back in the back like cattles. We were stuffed in the back just like cattles. And if we got to a seat, we couldn't sit down in that seat. We had to stand up over that seat. I work hard all day, and I had to stand up all the way home, because I couldn't have a seat on the bus. And if you sit down on the bus, the bus driver would say, "Let me have that seat, nigger." And you'd have to get up. And you couldn't uh, sit down. And a lot of times that ah, we'd go to the front, he wouldn't let us in the front, but he'd take our money at the front. And then he'd drive off and leave us standing there without—he done took our money and gone. And that's how it was when… during the bus boycott. And that's why I walked.
WHEN DID YOU FIRST HEAR ABOUT THE BOYCOTT?
When Rosie got on the bus and the white man asked her for—the bus driver asked her up. And she refused to get up. And ah, they had her arrested. And she called E. D. Nixon, and E. D. Nixon went down there and they got her out. And that's where the… the bus boycott first started off.
AND DID YOU GET A LEAFLET ABOUT IT?
GET A, UH, ANY PAPER ON IT TO TELL YOU THAT THERE WAS GOING TO BE A BOYCOTT?
Yes. It was announced in uh, the church, it was first organized at Mt. Vine Church. And they told us all then that we were going to start boycotting. And that night when they was all organized, Pastor King was the last man walked in. And he sit in the back. And when he sit in the back, E. D. Nixon pointed to him and said, "There's our leader." And he said, he wrestled with it all night. He couldn't go to bed. And he wrestled with it all night to see if he would take it. And said he asked the Lord to show him. And so sitting at the table he drank the cup of coffee. And sitting it at the table he leaned over on the table and he must have dozed off to sleep, but it come before him to take it. And so he's the organizer that night. And then the next boycott, when we had the full gathering of the boycott was at the Holt Street Baptist Church which I didn't attend that night because my husband was real sick.
NOW WHAT WAS IT LIKE, UM, HAVING TO WALK? I MEAN WHAT KIND OF HARDSHIP DID IT PUT ON YOU?
Well, it was pretty hard to walk because I had to walk about a mile and a half or more to work and back. And it was pretty, pretty hard to work. I was, I was tired. I worked all day, and then I was tired, but I had to walk.
WHY DID YOU HAVE TO WALK?
I walked because I wanted better—I wanted everything to be better for us. And, and then, and they had on the boycott and I wanted to cooperate with, with, with the majority of the people that was, was, had on the boycott. I wanted to be one of them that tried to make it better. I don't want somebody—didn't want somebody else to make it better for me. And I, I, I, and I didn't uh, cooperate with them. And I went—I walked.
WAS THERE EVER A TIME YOU ATTEMPTED TO TAKE THE BUS?
I never attempted to take the bus. Never.
YOU WEREN'T TEMPTED? YOU WEREN'T TIRED?
I was tired, but I didn't tempt—my feets was tired, but my soul was willing. I didn't, I didn't have no desire to get on the bus.
DID THEY EVER—DID THE BUSES EVER PASS YOU BY AND OPEN THEM AND ASKED YOU TO COME ON?
They have, they have stopped many times. It was Oak Park bus then, but it's a, another bus now. They changed it. But it was Oak Park bus at that time. He has stopped many times on the corner of High and Jackson and opened the door, for people to get on but they didn't get on. There's a mighty few, two or three might have gotten on, but didn't nobody else get on.
DID YOU EVER GET RIDES FROM PEOPLE?
Well, we had a pick-up down at the Hudson Street Baptist Church. And by my husband being sick sometime I would get there too late, or sometime I… I would get there before he got his load going my way, and I'd have to keep walking. Because I didn't want to be too late getting through on my job and getting back to my husband.
THE POLICE SAY THAT THE CRIME RATE DROPPED OFF IN MOST OF THE CITY. DO YOU REMEMBER THAT?
Yeah, the crime rate dropped off. They didn't have much of a crime. No more than they, uh, bombing. We had a lot of that.
WAS THE COMMUNITY REALLY TOGETHER THEN?
It was—yes sir. They really was. Every—everybody was together. And I remember the night when they bombed uh, Pastor King's house, I was living right around the corner from there. He was living on Jackson and I was living on Shawb - And we went out, went, he was, he wasn't there. His wife was in there with a small baby at that time. And somebody had done bombed his house. He was in a meeting. And when they got there all the colored peoples had had their weapons they had their guns and everything was ready. But King come out. He went in there and he said, my wife and baby's all right. He held up his hand and he said, put down your weapons. He said, this is non-violent. And so that's why I didn't… didn't… we didn't do anything that night, because I was… they was mine.
WAS IT HARD SOMETIMES REMAINING NON-VIOLENT?
No. No. It wasn't hard for me because he preached it. He preached non-violence. Now sometime I think uh, we would have did some if it hadn't been for him and Reverend Abernathy.
DID YOU FIND THAT YOU WERE RIDING WITH PEOPLE SOMETIMES THAT ORDINARILY YOU MIGHT BE AFRAID TO RIDE WITH OR THEY WOULDN'T PICK YOU UP, BUT BECAUSE IT WAS THE BOYCOTT FOLKS JUST KIND OF COOPERATED WITH EACH OTHER?
No, we wasn't afraid of anyone that picked us up. Because uh, Reverend Johnson, H.H. Johnson, the Pastor of Hershing Street, he, it was at his church and he knowed who was picking up and who wasn't. And who was, you was supposed to ride with and who wasn't. And if the peoples wasn't there what you supposed to ride with, he'd take you himself.
[That was runout on Camera.Ok, this 28 August '79, This is Blackside, we're in Montgomery, Alabama. This is Sound Roll 9. Ok, again, Sound Roll 9, Camera Roll 15, Mrs… Nesbitt.]
WHAT IS IT LIKE NOW WITH UM, YOUNG BLACK PEOPLE?
Well, there's a lot of these uh, young black peoples who's holding their, the jobs now, they don't know what the struggle was all about. They was uh—some of them was small, and some of them was in college in, in high school. They didn't, didn't know what it was all about. And some of them think they did it all by themselves. They don't know what a hard struggle we had to make it possible for them to have the job what they got now.
AND HOW DO THEY TREAT YOU?
Some, some of them are very nice, and some of them is just as nasty as the white folks used to be.
WHY DO YOU THINK THAT IS?
Because they don't understand how they got the position they got. That's why they do it, because they don't know, they didn't have no struggle. It come easy to them because we made it possible for them to have those jobs.
HOW DO YOU—HOW DID YOU FEEL GOING BACK ON THE BUS THAT FIRST, THOSE FIRST COUPLE OF DAYS AFTER THE BOYCOTT FINISHED?
I felt fine because I could sit anywhere I want. I sit right—when I, first time I got on the bus, I sit right back behind the bus driver. If there was any, any way that I could I would sit in his lap.
WHAT DID WHITE FOLKS DO? I MEAN HOW DID THEY REACT TO THAT?
A lot of them stood up. For a good… for a good long while they wouldn't sit down.
COULD YOU SAY, A LOT OF WHITE PEOPLE…
A lot… a lot of white people stood up.
UM, AND, AND WHY DID THEY DO THAT?
Because they didn't want to sit beside us. That's why, they didn't want to sit down beside us. And they stood up.
CAN YOU START AT THE BEGINNING OF THAT AND JUST SAY A LOT OF WHITE FOLKS, A LOT OF WHITE PEOPLE, AND THEN EXACTLY THE WAY YOU SAID IT?
A lot of white people stood up.
OK, UM, IF YOU COULD SAY, LIKE, A LOT OF WHITE PEOPLE STOOD UP BECAUSE THEY DIDN'T WANT TO… THE WHOLE THING. YEAH.
Ok, a lot of white people stood up because they didn't want to sit down beside us.
AND WHAT DID YOU DO?
I sit there and was proud to sit there. Because I had walked to make it possible for me to sit down when I got on the bus.
WERE WHITE FOLKS NASTY AT ALL TO YOU?
No, they didn't—they wasn't nasty. They didn't say anything to us, but they just stood up and wouldn't sit down beside us.
WHO WAS THE TRUE HERO OR HEROINE? WHO WERE THE PEOPLE WHO WERE REALLY WERE…
THE HEROES OF, OF MONTGOMERY, OF THE WHOLE BOYCCOTT? DR. KING WAS THE LEADER.
Well, Dr. Wilson was one, and uh, Dr. Hubbard. Dr. H.H. Johnson. They was the leaders of… of all of us.
DO YOU THINK THAT THE BUSES WOULD HAVE CHANGED WITHOUT THE BOYCOTT?
No, it would have been worse, cause it was getting worse everyday. You didn't have room to stand up back there, was so many packed back in the back of the bus. And you couldn't sit down. If a seat was a vacant, you couldn't sit down, and you had to stand up. And it was getting worse.
DID YOU KNOW YOU WERE GOING TO DO SOMETHING THAT WAS GOING TO CHANGE THE WORLD? WERE YOU AWARE THAT THE WORLD WAS GOING TO BE CHANGED AFTER THAT?
Yeah, I… I felt like it was, because uh, God sent Dr. King, just like he sent Moses to the children of Israel. And he led them out of bondage, and he sent King here for our leader. And we followed our leader. And that's what made it better for us today. He is gone. I wish today that he was here could see all the changes. But he's gone. But, uh, his work still lives on.
DID YOU THINK THAT BLACK PEOPLE WOULD STAY TOGETHER THE WAY THEY DID?
No, I didn't. I didn't have the slightest idea that we would stick together and pull together like we did. Because that's why I say God sent King. Because didn't nobody do that, draw us together like that, but a God.
THANK YOU VERY MUCH.
[That's a cut Ok, uh, this will be wild, wild sound of Mrs. Nesbitt, outside.]
OK, WHAT WAS IT LIKE FOR BLACK, FOR, FOR, UM, BLACK PEOPLE BEFORE THE BUS BOYCOTT? UM, NOT JUST THE BUSES, BUT THE SEPARATE WAITING ROOMS AND ALL THAT STUFF?
Well, we couldn't go into cafes. If you wanted to eat anything you had to uh, order it from the front, and then you'd have to go around to the back and they'd hand it to you out the back door, like it was a dog. And uh, the restrooms, you couldn't go in the rest… white people's rest rooms. You had… some places they had separate. And if they didn't have a separate you couldn't go in there regardless you had to wait and go someplace else.
OK, TELL YOU WHAT, IF YOU CAN UH, ANSWER IT TOWARD ME, CUZ THE MIC IS OVER HERE. SO, UM… YEAH. UM, WHAT WAS IT LIKE FOR BLACK FOLKS? [laughter] DO IT ALL OVER AGAIN.
Well, we couldn't go in the restrooms. And if you went to a cafe, we'd have—if we wanted anything to eat, they would hand it to you out at the back door. And… and, like you was a dog, and you couldn't go in the… in the rest… in the restaurant. And you couldn't go in the rest rooms. Some places had separate rest rooms and some didn't. And if you wanted to go in a… if you wanted to go, you'd just have to hold whatever you had until you got to another… another place that you could go to the restroom.
WHAT HAPPENED WHEN YOU WERE TRAVELING?
Uh, I was uh, working for Ms. Thomas, and we had went to Florida, and we was on our way back. And I had to go to the restroom. And the man, her husband stopped at the station, and he said he was going to get some gas while I go to the restroom. And the… the white lady there said, "She's… she's not going in there. She's not going in that restroom." And uh, he said, "Well, we'll go somewhere and get the gas." And her husband say, "Open the door and let her in." And the only way I could get in there, was for the man, her husband to buy the gas, was the only way that I could go to that restroom.
DID YOU EVER HAVE TO, TO, UM, HAVE ARGUMENTS WITH PEOPLE ABOUT THAT? I MEAN UH, ABOUT WHERE YOU COULD GO?
No, I never did. Because we—I knowed better than to argue with anybody because the sign was there. They had the signs up there. And I knowed they was for whites. You see, the signs was always up there, "White Only." And I didn't even try, make an attempt to go in there, because I… well I would have an argument with them, because I knowed I couldn't go in there.
HOW DID YOU FEEL ABOUT WHITE PEOPLE BEFORE?
Well, I didn't have no hatred against—in my heart against nobody.
EVEN THOUGH ALL THOSE THINGS?
All those things happened, but I didn't have no hatred. I don't—I didn't hate nobody.
And I still doesn't hate nobody. I don't know why, but, but I guess because I was raised that way. I… I don't hate nobody.
DO YOU THINK UH DR. KING PREACHED NON-VIOLENCE, AND THAT UH MOST OF THE CIVIL RIGHTS MOVEMENT WAS NON-VIOLENT.
Yeah, that's right. That's right.
DO YOU THINK NON-VIOLENCE WAS THE WAY TO GO? YOU THINK IT WAS THE RIGHT WAY TO DO IT?
No, because of… violence don't accomplish nothing. You don't accomplish nothing by violence. A fire—you can't fight fire with fire. There's got to be some—something in between there. There's… there's… stop the evil part of it. And so King said non-violence, and that's what we followed, non-violence.
WERE YOU EVER IN A SITUATION WHERE YOU MIGHT, WERE, WERE THREATENED BY, BY SOMEBODY BEING VIOLENT?
No, I never have.
DO YOU THINK IF YOU HAD BEEN YOU WOULD HAVE BEEN…
I think I would have did a little somethin'.
I'll be honest, I think if… if… if anybody would have attacked me I would have did something, sure.
WHEN YOU WERE TALKING ABOUT HOW HARD IT WAS WORKING BACK THEN, WHAT WAS IT LIKE? I MEAN YOU SAID YOU HAD TO GO AND DO ALL THAT STUFF, AND YOU WERE WORKING, AND THEY DIDN'T PAY YOU ANYTHING.
They didn't pay me anything, but I had to do everything in the house. Cook, wash, and all that, and look after children too. But I wasn't paid—they wasn't paying anything. At that time I was making $9 a week.
WHAT IS IT LIKE NOW?
Oh, it's wonderful now. It's wonderful now. I don't work hard, and I get good pay.
THAT'S GOOD. THANK YOU. CUT.
[Alright, this will be sounds of the street for Mrs. Nesbitt interview… cut. I was trying to get the rooster, but no go. Ok, um, a lot of Roll 15, That's Camera Roll 15, M.O.S., Uh, State Capitol, Union Station, um, etc. Camera Roll 16 began with the Dexter Street Church and the also… and the State Capitol. And also uh, on the end of 13, aerial shot.]