Interview with William Simmons
Interview with William Simmons


Production Team: B

Interview Date: November 8, 1985

Camera Rolls: 331-335
Sound Rolls: 1316-1317

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 William Simmons, conducted by Blackside, Inc. on November 8, 1985, 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:

[minus 8 dB reference tone. Donald Thomas recordist.]

QUESTION 1
INTERVIEWER:

OK, UM. GIVE ME A SENSE OF THE TIMES, UH, WE'RE TALKING ABOUT THE DEEP SOUTH AS A WHOLE NOW, UM, AS A NICE PLACE TO LIVE IN THE EARLY 60S.

William Simmons:

Well, the Deep South has always been a nice place to live and the early 60s was certainly no exception. With all of the turbulence that went on and all of the big headlines that appeared occasionally, it still was home and life went on for the most part very much as usual.

QUESTION 2
INTERVIEWER:

WHAT WAS THE, WHAT WAS THAT LIKE, THE STATE AS A WHOLE IN TERMS OF RELATIONSHIPS BETWEEN PEOPLE AND THE ATMOSPHERE.

William Simmons:

Well, the atmosphere was, as far as I know was unchanged uh, from time as long as I remember. We have always had in the south a civility, and a courtesy uh, between all people and those times certainly were no exception to that general rule.

QUESTION 3
INTERVIEWER:

OK. UM, NOW GOING ON TO THE LATE 50S AND EARLY 60S. UM, MANY MISSISSIPPIANS HAVE SAID THAT ALTHOUGH THERE WAS A RIGID CODE OF SOCIAL SEGREGATION AND RACIAL SEGREGATION, THAT DESPITE THIS FACT, UH, BLACKS AND WHITES IN THE SOUTH AND IN MISSISSIPPI HAD A, A CLOSER RELATIONSHIP HERE THAN ANYWHERE ELSE. CAN YOU COMMENT ON THAT?

William Simmons:

I think that's generally correct, um, I have…

QUESTION 4
INTERVIEWER:

TELL ME WHAT WAS GENERALLY CORRECT.

William Simmons:

I have heard it, uh, well it's generally correct that uh, there's a close relationship between blacks and whites in the south, although that terminology is recent. It used, the polite term was colored people uh, in the 60's and um, that, that is true, that had always existed. Uh, it may be because of this unusual fact that in the south while we had social segregation, we did not generally have residential segregation. There was a close physical association between black and white, that uh, is historically uh, just a fact of life and it has, it has been summarized generally in this perhaps inaccurate phrase that in the South, the blacks are highly regarded as people and not highly regarded as a race whereas in the North they are highly regarded as a race and not at all highly regarded as individual people.

QUESTION 5
INTERVIEWER:

THAT'S GOOD, OK CUT, CUT FOR A SECOND

William Simmons:

Fire when ready, Prudence.

QUESTION 6
INTERVIEWER:

OK WE'RE TALKING ABOUT THE RELATIONSHIP IN THE LATE 50S EARLY 60S OF, DESCRIBE THE CODE OF SEGREGATION SPECIFICALLY FOR SOMEONE WHO'S NEVER BEEN DOWN HERE AND WE'RE IN THE LATE 50S EARLY 60S. WHAT COULD AND COULDN'T ONE DO?

William Simmons:

The practice of segregation uh, that prevailed throughout the South, um, really operated primarily in social spheres. That had to do with social events um, and social type institutions, that was true. Uh, it extends to, or did extend and still does, to churches, to education to all facets of life that involve a social type exchange. There were actually state laws on the books regarding segregation in schools and in public transportation. These had been on the books in all of the Southern states since about the, the eighteen ninety's when the restoration of home rule occurred after reconstruction. It might be mentioned that segregation itself was an outgrowth of the reconstruction period following the Civil War. When all of the South was under black political domination and it was that historical experience with the excesses of the reconstruction legislatures maintained by uh Yankee bayonets that led to this result and it might be added that the whole legal concept of segregation was based on a U.S. Supreme Court decision in 1896 called Plessy vs Furgeson.

QUESTION 7
INTERVIEWER:

NOW, HOW DID THESE RELATIONSHIPS BETWEEN UH, COLORED PEOPLE AS THEY WERE CALLED AND WHITES BEGIN TO CHANGE AFTER THE BROWN VS. THE BOARD OF EDUCATION DECISION IN ‘54?

William Simmons:

The relationship between black and white changed after the Supreme Court decision in 1954 hardly noticeably at all. Um, as far as the general daily life in the South there was no change. The reaction of, of most white people and I think its fair to say, make that generalization was at two opposite poles: people either said oh, it'll never happen, that is the schools will never be integrated or on the other hand the Supreme Court has spoken, there's nothing you can do about it.

QUESTION 8
INTERVIEWER:

WELL, IT SEEMS TO ME, I'LL JUST KEEP GOING ON THIS TRAIN OF THOUGHT, IN 54 WITH THAT DECISION, NOW THAT SEGREGATED SCHOOLS WERE ILLEGAL IN EFFECT, UM, CAN YOU JUST GIVE ME AN IDEA ABOUT THE KIND OF SHOCK THAT THAT DECISION UH, REGISTERED TO SOUTHERNERS?

William Simmons:

Uh it had a profound shock. It was met almost, the Supreme Court decision of 1954 caused a profound shock. Almost one of disbelief except to those who had been following prior decisions and who saw the way the wind was blowing, it was not too big a surprise there. What did come as a surprise was the second part of the decision. It really came in two parts the first one uh, said segregation was no longer legal. It outlawed segregation. The second part required integration and there is a distinction between those two, a very great distinction. And I think it was the second part when it really began to soak in that disturbed people very much because that involved the, the fact of compulsion, of compulsory mixing of people who had two um completely separate ways of life.

QUESTION 9
INTERVIEWER:

UM, WHY WAS THIS DECISION THOUGHT TO BE A DANGEROUS DECISION [unintelligible]?

William Simmons:

The decision was thought to be a dangerous decision uh because it involved what to many people at the time was, was kind of unthinkable. And it raised the question why? Uh, why use the power of government to compel people to mix socially for the sole reason that they were of different races. There's nothing, there's no historical precedent that anyone has brought to my mind that explains this. There's no prior experience of mankind. There's plenty of the opposite of separation, but none of this compulsion to integrate. And the effects in education were thought to be uh detrimental as indeed they turned out to be. Uh, it was foreseen that there would be uh chaos, in fact that has not actually happened to a large extent. But uh, it was resented uh very deeply and regarded as a gross usurpation of power by the United States Supreme Court and it destroyed the confidence of the public in that court's integrity.

QUESTION 10
INTERVIEWER:

OK THANKS, STOP THERE FOR A SECOND. OK. YOU WERE SAYING THAT AFTER THE 54 DECISION, UM, FIRST OF ALL, THE DECISION ITSELF WAS AN UNTHINKABLE BECAUSE OF THE REPERCUSSIONS UH, IT WOULD BRING. GIVE US SOME SPECIFICS ABOUT WHAT, WHAT PEOPLE WERE AFRAID OF AND YOU PARTICULARLY.

William Simmons:

Well, uh, I make exception of myself as being afraid of any consequence of it because I was a mature person, and able to take care of myself, the main concern was for children, or the younger people growing up. Uh, there was concern about interracial dating to be perfectly frank. There was concern about uh parental control, uh, the fact that in schools the difficulty of maintaining discipline would be, exacerbated by this, by this decision. It enhanced the power of civil rights lawyers, where they were able to call the tune in the classrooms moreso than teachers and school officials themselves. It just changed the whole basis. It took, it took the control of schools away from local school boards. Placed the control of schools in the hands of federal courts and the difficulties that arose out of this transfer of power from local to federal level, uh was, was what people were concerned about most with all of the details that would flow from that.

QUESTION 11
INTERVIEWER:

WAS THERE ANYTHING UH, UH, BESIDES THE EFFECT IT WOULD HAVE ON THE SCHOOL CHILDREN, WHAT WERE SOME OF THE OTHER ISSUES YOU WERE AFRAID OF? ONE WERE SCHOOLS…

William Simmons:

Well, this is not directly related to the, to this decision although it's related to a similar decision, the U.S. Supreme Court, that is the outlawying of restrictive covenants on property.

FILM PRODUCTION TEAM:

[End of film… [overlap]]

QUESTION 12
INTERVIEWER:

OK, JUST A COUPLE SENTENCES, VERY BRIEFLY, WHAT'S… DEFINE THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN DESEGREGATION AND INTEGRATION, IF YOU THINK IT'S SIGNIFICANT.

William Simmons:

There's a significance difference between desegregation and integration. These two terms I think have been used interchangeably and quite erroneously. Desegregation simply means the absence of legal segregation, that is, the absence of laws requiring separation of the races. That is a negative. Integration is a positive that requires the actual mixing of races, and for racial reasons. And it's a, it's a new type of racism that is very disturbing. It has led to affirmative action, to busing of children to achieve so-called racial balance, whatever that is. And uh, uh, also it has led to the gerrymandering of school attendance zones in order to get what some social engineer thinks is a proper racial mix. So there's a world of difference between desegregation and integration.

QUESTION 13
INTERVIEWER:

HOW WOULD YOU DEFINE THE PHRASE, I READ THIS IN THE CITIZENS' COUNCIL PAMPHLETS, OF RACIAL INTEGRITY AND IN, IN THE EARLY 60S NOW. WHAT WAS, UH, IF I READ THIS AND SAID, SO WHAT, WHAT ARE THE IMPLICATIONS OF RACIAL INTEGRITY?

William Simmons:

The, uh, the implications of racial integrity are simply what the word integrity means. That is to, to maintain the standard of racial integrity to refrain from mixing to oppose the compulsory integration of races. It's the, could be said to be the opposite of integration.

QUESTION 14
INTERVIEWER:

UM, NOW CAN YOU TALK ABOUT THE GROWTH OF THE CITIZENS' COUNCILS IN THE LATE 50S AND UH, AS A RESULT AND RESPONSE TO THESE DECISIONS, BROWN AND . [unintelligible].

William Simmons:

The Citizens' Councils were formed in the summer of 1954 following the uh Brown vs Board of Education decision on May 17, of 54 for the reason that it dealt directly with education and parents were very concerned about their children, uh, about the effects it would have on them. They didn't know exactly what to do, but they felt that they should organize. They looked around them, they saw that the decision itself, had been the result of organization, of organized pressure, over a period of many years. And they felt that it could only be fought with counter-pressure. That was through organization, hence the Citizens' Councils were formed. The name Citizens' Council was selected because it was descriptive. A council of citizens. And it was thought that the best course to follow would be to try to get uh, respected capable people who were aware of community sentiment to form themselves together for purposes of communication and, and study and try to determine what best course of action could be taken.

QUESTION 15
INTERVIEWER:

SO, TO SUMMARIZE THE PURPOSE OF THE CITIZENS' COUNCIL, WHAT, WHAT ARE THE GOALS? YOU COULDN'T REVERSE THE SUPREME COURT'S DECISION.

William Simmons:

The goal of the Citizens Council was to not necessarily to reverse the court's decision because that was regarded, although desirable as realistically impossible. It was to figure out how to deal with it. And uh, it was dealt with quite successfully for ten years until the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, because no integration occurred in the South from 1954 until 1964, a period of ten years.

QUESTION 16
INTERVIEWER:

WHEN YOU SAY IT WAS SUCCESS, YOU WERE SUCCESSFUL BY WHAT, STALLING TACTICS OR COURT…

William Simmons:

Stalling, stalling tactics, by mobilizing public sentiment, uh, against the U.S. Supreme Court decision.

QUESTION 17
INTERVIEWER:

I'M SORRY CAN WE START AT THE BEGINNING? UH, JUST, JUST UH, IN A COMPLETE SENTENCE, YOU KNOW WHAT YOU WERE TRYING TO DO…

William Simmons:

Yeah, I forgot, I got too responsive.

QUESTION 18
INTERVIEWER:

WE WERE TALKING ABOUT STALLING TACTICS. UH, OK, HOW DID YOU ALL UH, UH, PROCEED DURING THAT TEN YEAR PERIOD?

William Simmons:

The strategy of the Citizens Council during the years following the U.S. Supreme Court decision was to delay, to delay, to delay, uh because nothing was to be gained by not delaying, uh, hence that seemed to be the sensible thing to do. And it did work for ten years until the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and that in itself led only to what was called token integration which was very slight and really of not any concern at all.

QUESTION 19
INTERVIEWER:

COULD YOU DEFINE FOR ME HOW THE CITIZENS' COUNCIL WOULD WORK SAY IN A SMALL TOWN RATHER THAN A, IN ALL OF THE SOUTH, LET'S SAY AS AN EXAMPLE, IN ONE AREA. WHAT WOULD YOU DO?

William Simmons:

In a small, in a small town the Citizens' Council would have meetings, uh, they would uh, in effect mobilize public sentiment. The would get uh, uh means of communication: Newspapers, radio and television stations uh, to express their views. Um, also and this is to be uh, remembered, it's difficult to remember in the light of subsequent events, but at that time, there was no mandate to integrate. For integration to take place a suit had to be brought and no individual suits were brought, hence there was no integration. And in, in this sense the mobilization of public sentiment and opposition to the U.S. Supreme Court decision was quite effective for this ten year period.

QUESTION 20
INTERVIEWER:

OK, LET'S CUT OK, UM, CAN YOU TALK ABOUT THE GROWTH OF THE CITIZENS' COUNCILS IN THE LATE 50S AND UM… I'M SORRY, LET'S START AGAIN. SINCE THERE WERE SO MANY PEOPLE WHO JOINED THE COUNCIL, UM, CAN YOU GIVE US NUMBERS OR PERCENTAGES OF MEN WHO JOINED, OR WAS IT ONLY MEN?

William Simmons:

The Citizens' Councils in the late 5Os grew quite rapidly uh, as word of the organization spread. It actually got its biggest boost from a speech made by a lady member of the state legislature. Uh, the speech was well publicized and organizations began to spring up all over the state. The Citizens' Council was not and never was an overall organization. It was a group of local councils who cooperated with each other. There was no centralized record keeping and no one ever really knew uh, how many members there were but it, in this state and in neighboring states it numbered certainly into many thousands. The leadership typically in a local, on a local level, would be town leaders. Uh, lawyers, doctors, businessmen, professional men by and large. And of course planters in the Delta, farmers in the hills and uh generally that, that type of person. Uh, ladies were very active in it as well.

QUESTION 21
INTERVIEWER:

AND SO SPECIFICALLY IN 62, WHAT WOULD YOU SAY THE, WHAT WOULD BE THE INFLUENCE OF THE CITIZENS' COUNCIL?

William Simmons:

I probably would not be well qualified to describe the influence of the Citizens' Council, because it would be like the tree saying how far does the forest reach. Someone with a more objective point of view could do better, but uh, I felt that it was representative of the mainstream of thought of the white community at the time.

QUESTION 22
INTERVIEWER:

DID YOU HAVE A LOT OF UH, POLITICIANS THAT AGREED WITH YOUR ORGANIZATION?

William Simmons:

Many politicians agreed with the aims of the Citizens' Councils and in fact a blue book of state organization of those years, I think would reflect that a majority of members of the state legislature listed membership in the Citizens' Council as one of their uh, asides.

QUESTION 23
INTERVIEWER:

OK UM, NOW, WHAT WAS THE POSITION OF THE CITIZENS' COUNCIL ON STATES' VERSUS FEDERAL RIGHTS AS THEY RELATED TO THE QUESTION OF RACIAL INTEGRITY?

William Simmons:

The position of the Citizen's Councils on State's Rights vs the Federal Government in the field of racial integrity as well as in all fields was very much in favor of states' rights. Uh, historically uh we are inheritors of a states' rights tradition and that is very strong in our part of the country. It was reflected in the presidential election of 1948. It has been reflected in subsequent presidential election and the selection of free electors. There's been that spirit of independence and a real concern with the overweening power of the federal government.

QUESTION 24
INTERVIEWER:

OK, LET ME TAKE YOU BACK TO OLD MISS, UM AND THAT, THE CRISIS THAT OCCURRED IN 1962. UH, WHAT STANDS OUT IN YOUR MIND ABOUT THAT NIGHT OF SEPTEMBER 30th OR OCTOBER 1st IN 62 WHEN JAMES MEREDITH IS ON THE CAMPUS AND UH THESE DISTURBANCES BREAK OUT. YOU KNOW, WERE YOU THERE, WERE YOU WATCHING ON TV, WHERE WERE YOU AND WHAT WAS YOUR REACTION?

William Simmons:

When, when the disturbances uh broke out at Old Miss, when Meredith was uh brought in by the U.S. Marshals and the riots broke out I was in the Citizens' Council office in Jackson.

FILM PRODUCTION TEAM:

[End of Sound Roll 332. Going to Sound Roll 333. Speed. Mark.]

QUESTION 25
INTERVIEWER:

OK SO YOU'RE IN THE CITIZENS' COUNCIL WHY DON'T WE START FROM THERE.

William Simmons:

I was in the Citizens' Council office in Jackson during the night of the, of the Old Miss riot when Meredith was brought to the campus forcibly by United States Marshals and uh, we were kept aware of what was going on over, over the radio reports. Uh, there was a lot of excitement in Jackson at the time because rumors were flying that Governor Barnett would be arrested by United States Marshals. Many people, in fact it probably numbered several thousand surrounded the governor's mansion in downtown Jackson and more or less stood there. They were very orderly, not too excitable, but stood there as a sort of human barrier, to protect the governor and to stand with him. That was one of the main objectives and thoughts as expressed to me was simply to show solidarity with him in support for his position in trying to protect the integrity of the state, of State University.

QUESTION 26
INTERVIEWER:

WHAT DID YOU ALL THINK OF THE MARSHALS COMING IN?

William Simmons:

We thought, we thought the use of marshals was pretty bad. We viewed this, the whole episode as an attack on the authority of the state. Uh, it was politically, apparently politically uh mandatory for President John F. Kennedy and attorney general Robert E. Kennedy to put Meredith, to put a black in Old Miss. They had been suffering from a bad defeat when the freedom riders had tried to invade the state a couple of years earlier. So it appeared politically necessary for them to show some results. Mississippi was a good whipping boy and also the symbol of resistance to the Supreme Court's decision, so why not humiliate the state and show the fist? And that's exactly what happened.

QUESTION 27
INTERVIEWER:

DID GOVERNOR BARNETT EVER TALK TO YOU ABOUT HOW HE FELT WHEN HE STOOD ON THE STEPS AND INTERPOSED HIMSELF UH TO PREVENT MEREDITH'S ADMISSION?

William Simmons:

He did it four times.

QUESTION 28
INTERVIEWER:

OK, UH, I'M SORRY, START FROM THE…

William Simmons:

This is when I'd say he was, he's incredible. If you want to I'll recount one of them.

QUESTION 29
INTERVIEWER:

SURE, GO AHEAD, TALK ABOUT GOVERNOR BARNETT AND YOUR POSIITON.

William Simmons:

You ready?

QUESTION 30
INTERVIEWER:

MM-HMM

QUESTION 31
INTERVIEWER:

Uh, Governor Barnett uh, in a speech, I forget the date but it was about a week prior to Meredith's being brought to the campus, had made a speech broadcast statewide on television in which he uh, interposed the authority of the state between the college board, who had responsibility for determining registrations and the authority of the, the power of the federal government. There's a long history to this which, I don't know if we need to go in here, but as one of these, in one of the acts, or one of the confrontations of a more amusing nature that took place in the Wolfram building, it's a state office building in downtown Jackson. Uh, two federal representatives, a chief marshal and a federal attorney accompanied Meredith to the college board office to see that he was registered. They had a summons uh from a federal judge enjoining Governor Barnett from interfering with the registration. Governor Barnett was standing there in place of the college board. As a matter of fact, if I recall correctly he had been named de facto registrar for the moment. When uh, the federal uh, official whose name as I remember was uh John Doar spoke to Barnett and asked him if he would accept Meredith as a student. Barnett peered over his glasses and he said which one of you gentlemen is James Meredith? This, this caused uh some laughter. During this, uh it should be added that during this episode the corridor was filled with members of the legislature, uh, then Doar said uh, Governor I have this summons for you and Barnett said, uh, well, I thank you for offering it to me, but I, I don't think I want it. And uh, Doar said, then you refuse? And Barnett said, I refuse but I do so politely. Whereupon Doar said, uh, in which case we'll leave politely and Barnett's final words were, come see us at the mansion. And that's the God's truth… [laughter]

QUESTION 32
INTERVIEWER:

DID YOU, IS THIS A STORY TOLD AROUND OR DID YOU HAPPEN TO BE THERE OR, WHERE DID, WHERE DID THIS ALL COME OUT?

William Simmons:

Much of it appeared in print, in the paper. I was not there but uh, it, it came out. And I wrote a, I had written an unfinished and unedited manuscript about this whole thing and I had, I had a lot of sources at the time and uh, so I got it pretty straight. But that is so in character for Barnett, it sounds unbelievable but when you know him it fits.

QUESTION 33
INTERVIEWER:

UH, LET'S SEE…

William Simmons:

When he said, which one of you is Meredith, I thought John Doar was going to collapse

FILM PRODUCTION TEAM:

[Speed. Mark.]

QUESTION 34
INTERVIEWER:

OK, UM, GOING BACK TO THE POSITIONS OF THE CITIZENS' COUNCIL, UM, MANY PEOPLE HAVE THE, THE FALSE IMPRESSION THAT THE THAT THE KLAN IS, THE KU KLUX KLAN IS BASICALLY UH, RUNNING THINGS IN THE STATE OR IN THE SOUTH AT THIS PERIOD, THE DEEP SOUTH. NOW, WHAT, I WANT TO CLARIFY THIS, WHAT IS THE RELATIONSHIP BETWEEN THE, THE UH, CITIZENS' COUNCIL VERSUS THE KLAN, WHAT ARE THE DIFFERENCES, AND WHAT WAS THE POSITION OF THE CITIZENS' COUNCIL ON THE KU KLUX KLAN.

William Simmons:

There's absolutely no relationship between the Citizens' Council and the Ku Klux Klan.

QUESTION 35
INTERVIEWER:

WELL WHAT WERE THE, YOU ALL, HOW DID YOU VIEW THE ACTIVITIES AS ONE HEARD ABOUT THE KLAN IN THAT PERIOD?

William Simmons:

The activities of the Ku Klux Klan generally were viewed by members of the Citizens' Councils as very detrimental to our cause. [overlap]Because of the violence and because of irresponsible actions. And because the Klan by and large played into the stereotype of the, of the Southerner that was uh portrayed in the North to create anti-southern sentiment.

QUESTION 36
INTERVIEWER:

WHY DON'T YOU TELL ME ABOUT THAT STEREOTYPE BRIEFLY.

William Simmons:

The stereotype of the Southerner is, when you've been characterized yourself as a stereotype uh it's hard to, it's hard to know exactly what to say. How do you say I'm not a stereotype? Uh, it's like being asked when did you stop beating your wife. Uh, you, you never started. I've been asked the question many times, why do you hate blacks. I don't hate blacks. Why should I? It's, it's that type of, it's, I don't know exactly how to describe it, but it is a strong, it's a very difficult thing to deal with. Uh, I have seen southerners that I could recognize as stereotypes, uh perhaps it's in the eye of the beholder, but I think it's been overdone uh, tremendously. And it completely ignores the complexity and the variety that exists here as it does everywhere in this world.

QUESTION 37
INTERVIEWER:

OK LET ME MOVE ON TO GOVERNOR PAUL JOHNSON. NOW HE'S RUNNING FOR OFFICE IN 1963. WAS, WAS UH, PAUL JOHNSON SUPPORTED BY THE CITIZENS' COUNCIL IN HIS ELECTION CAMPAIGN?

William Simmons:

The Citizens' Councils, never did support a candidate for public office directly. A majority of the Citizen's Council members I am sure, did support uh Governor Paul, uh, Lieutenant Governor Paul B. Johnson in his campaign for governor because of his strong stand at Old Miss.

QUESTION 38
INTERVIEWER:

THEN WHAT WAS THEIR REACTION TO HIS INAUGURAL SPEECH WHEN HE SEEMS TO AGREE?

William Simmons:

The reaction of most members to his inaugural speech in which he, in effect, made a 180 degree turn was one of great disappointment.

QUESTION 39
INTERVIEWER:

DID THEY FEEL BETRAYED?

William Simmons:

Uh, many of them, many members who had voted for him did feel betrayed by this sudden uh, sudden change in his policy.

QUESTION 40
INTERVIEWER:

OK, YOU WANT US TO CUT? WE'RE JUST ABOUT AT THE END. WE'VE JUST GOT A FEW MORE QUESTIONS, WE'RE DOING FINE.

William Simmons:

Ok.

FILM PRODUCTION TEAM:

[End of sound roll. Donald Thomas recordist. Speed. Mark. Speed and Mark.]

QUESTION 41
INTERVIEWER:

UM, NOW YOU'RE, YOU'RE SOMEONE WHO'S FROM THE STATE, YOU'RE EDUCATED, YOU'RE NOT THE STEREOTYPE OF, THAT'S BEEN PROMOTED ABOUT THE SOUTH. UM, A CONSERVATIVE PROFESSIONAL PERSON. WHEN YOU FIRST HEARD THAT PEOPLE WERE COMING INTO THE STATE EXPRESSLY TO CHANGE THINGS SOCIALLY AND POLITICAL, WHAT WAS YOUR REACTION TO THESE CIVIL RIGHTS WORKERS? THIS IS IN THAT SUMMER WHEN THERE WAS YOU KNOW, THOUSANDS COMING IN.

William Simmons:

When the civil rights workers invaded the state in the summer of 1964 to change us presumably into their own image, they were met with a feeling of some curiosity, but mostly resentment. Uh, they fanned out across the state, uh, made a great to do, of breaking up our customs, of flaunting uh, social practices that had been respected by people here over the years. That was the time of the hippies just coming in, many had on hippy uniforms and conducted themselves in hippy ways. They were not exactly the types of models that most people that I knew wanted to emulate. Also the, the arrogance that they showed in wanting to reform a whole state in the way they thought it should be, created resentment.** So, to say they were not warmly received and welcomed is, is, perhaps an understatement.

QUESTION 42
INTERVIEWER:

OK, UH, WHEN YOU FIRST PERSONALLY RAN INTO THEM WHAT WAS YOUR REACTION, AND IN WHAT CONTEXT?

William Simmons:

When I personally ran into them my reaction was one of unbelief. It, it, it really was, it was difficult for me to think that people would flaunt something this way. It's perhaps not a polite thing to mention but about the only close personal encounter I remember having had was coming out of a bank building one morning, to see these two young men in very short, shorts holding hands with their arms around each other and gazing into each others eyes with rapture. That sort of thing may have become commonplace since but at the time it sort of did something.

QUESTION 43
INTERVIEWER:

UH, NOW DID YOU FEEL THAT UH, BLACK PEOPLE ALREADY HAD THE VOTING RIGHTS THAT WERE BEING DISCUSSED, THAT WERE SUPPOSEDLY THE REASON FOR THIS INVASION? WHAT WAS YOUR FEELING ON THAT?

William Simmons:

Black people have had voting rights in this state all along. They had to meet certain qualifications. The objective of this student invasion was to eliminate all of the qualifications. To have mass voting and it was frankly to advance black political power. It was a very, uh had a very racist objection, objective. And uh, as such it was opposed.

QUESTION 44
INTERVIEWER:

GOING BACK TO WHAT YOU SAID JUST A MINUTE AGO WHEN YOU SAID FLAUNT SOCIAL CUSTOMS, WHAT WERE SOME OTHER EXAMPLES OF THINGS THAT YOU FELT WAS VIOLATED?

William Simmons:

Uh, the type of social customs that were violated by the students would be uh, students living in black neighborhoods for example, uh, going to black churches, uh, flaunting themselves in a way that was unbecoming. This is not to say that this type of thing hadn't been done. I had been in black churches, but under certain circumstances when it was acceptable and not to make a spectacle of myself. That really is the point of the whole thing. Uh, there was great publicity seeking, uh, a high profile was raised for all to see and that's the kind of conduct that was regarded as, as very distasteful.

QUESTION 45
INTERVIEWER:

BUT MANY PEOPLE RAISED AT THAT POINT THAT THE REASON THE STUDENTS CAME IN WAS BECAUSE THEY WERE WANTED THERE BY, BY SOME OF THESE AND THESE BLACK FAMILIES THAT TOOK THEM IN. WHAT, HOW DO YOU RESPOND TO THAT?

William Simmons:

The question that some of these were taken in by black families that wanted them I think they were taken in because the black families were hospitable. I don't think that uh, the whole influx of these, who knows how many, hundreds or perhaps even thousands of students, were not invited. I cannot believe there was an organized hospitality committee that, that brought these in. The steam and the whole motivating force for the drive came from without. From within organizations: the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee uh, and CORE and others. That's what did it and I think the uh, the colored families who them in could have been sympathetic, but could very well have been simple hospitality.

QUESTION 46
INTERVIEWER:

BUT WHAT ABOUT LATER MOVEMENTS IN, FOR EXAMPLE, IN, IN JACKSON, THE WHOLE MOVEMENT IN THE BLACK COMMUNITIES WHICH WAS A MOVEMENT WHICH CONSISTED OF UH, AROUND THE VOTING RIGHTS QUESTION. WHAT WAS YOUR RESPONSE TO THAT WHEN, WHEN BLACKS WERE ACTIVELY PARTICIPATING IN A WAY THEY HAD NOT BEFORE?

William Simmons:

There was no opposition to blacks participating in, uh, in registration voting uh, at all. The Citizens' Council has always taken a position that anyone who is qualified to vote should register and vote and be a good citizen. What is a little disturbing though about this whole question is the fact, is really is this question of race. They were asked to vote not as American citizens, but to vote as blacks. Now, there's been some history in the South of black block voting. And it has not been too pleasant. Most often it has been connected with political machines of, generally of a corrupt nature. I, to mention two the Crump machine in Memphis, Tennessee, the Long machine in Louisiana. None of which, neither one of which covered themselves with, one might say glory. And part of their power base was a manipulable black block vote. One could see this coming about and indeed it has, it has lead to all kinds of gerrymandering, uh, maneuvering by federal judges, by civil rights lawyers to advance black political power per se.

QUESTION 47
INTERVIEWER:

OK, CUT.

William Simmons:

Give him my, Give him my, Give him my regards.

FILM PRODUCTION TEAM:

[Speed and Mark.]

QUESTION 48
INTERVIEWER:

OK, REMEMBER I ASKED YOU BEFORE UH, WHETHER THERE'S ANY ONE INCIDENT THAT YOU FELT WAS AN EMOTIONAL, UH WATERLOO.

William Simmons:

The, the perhaps the most, the thought I had in the aftermath of Old Miss that I remember most vividly is after it was all over the next day it was a beautiful fall day, bright sunshine, blue skies. I looked out the office window of our office overlooking the governor's mansion, we were on the third floor, and my wife was standing there beside me. We looked at people walking down the street, normally going about their every day affairs and I turned to her and I said these people have just been deprived of the power of self government and they don't know it.

QUESTION 49
INTERVIEWER:

DID THAT…

William Simmons:

That's the shock, the realization came to me the enormous usurpation of power by the federal government had succeeded, and from then on things would never be the same.

QUESTION 50
INTERVIEWER:

DID YOU THEN PROPOSE TO RALLY AROUND THE CAUSE OF THE CITIZENS' COUNCIL WITH RENEWED VIGOR, OR DID YOU ALL TAKE A DIFFERENT STRATEGY, DIFFERENT TACTIC AFTER THAT? AFTER ALL THIS?

William Simmons:

After, after Old Miss uh there was a, a reaction, there was a state of shock and uh, yes, uh, a change in, in tactics, or a change in strategy was very necessary and indeed it did change. The change led to an emphasis on, we realized for one thing just how far the federal government would go. Many people thought they would not go that far, that they simply didn't have the stomach for using an airborne division of 32 thousand troops to subdue a state. But, that was, that was the case and the, a change in strategy was very necessary to one of more, uh, more subdued, less high profile uh activity and it, we began to understand then, what some of the consequences might be at the elementary and secondary levels. Bearing in mind that this event took place at the college level. We also uh, got documents that indicated how, just how far the federal government did intend to go at Old Miss, not just to put Meredith in, but to take an actual bed check of the dormitories to see how many people of which race were in which room, to be sure that there was no natural segregation in the dormitories.

QUESTION 51
INTERVIEWER:

OK, CUT

William Simmons:

Well, this, this is later.

FILM PRODUCTION TEAM:

[End of Camera Roll 334. Beginning of Camera Roll 335. Speed, Mark]

William Simmons:

It was significant in that it showed the effect of the transfer of power, that's…

QUESTION 52
INTERVIEWER:

RIGHT AND THAT'S… OK. AND NOW, AGAIN ON OLD MISS. WHAT WAS, A LOT OF PEOPLE FROM MISSISSIPPI UH, USE, I NOTICE REUSE CIVIL WAR TERMINOLOGY ALMOST. WHAT WAS THE FEELING OF THE FEDERAL GOVERNMENT COMING IN, EMOTIONALLY?

William Simmons:

The feeling in terms of the federal government coming in emotionally were, were very bitter. Uh, it's perhaps expressed very well by a cartoon that was drawn with two soldiers with bayonets uh, in a little girl's back marching her to class, this type of thing. Uh, it was, it was resented very deeply.

QUESTION 53
INTERVIEWER:

WOULD YOU, WOULD YOU SAY THAT THE SUMMER PROJECT IN 64 WAS ANOTHER TURNING POINT IN TERMS OF A HIGH POINT OF EMOTION?

William Simmons:

I would say the summer project of 64 was less of a high point in, in emotions than the Old Miss events because it was so less, so far, so much less dramatic and did not represent the use of government force. It was just simply, it was more of an annoyance than anything else.

QUESTION 54
INTERVIEWER:

OK, NOW HOW MUCH DID EVENTS HAPPENING OUTSIDE OF THE STATE, UM, FOR EXAMPLE THE, THE UH, WHAT HAPPENED IN BIRMINGHAM IN 63, AND THE MARCH ON WASHINGTON, AS A NATIONAL, UH, AS NATIONAL SENTIMENT SEEMS TO BE CHANGING HERE IN THIS PERIOD, HOW DID THAT AFFECT YOU ALL IN, IN MISSISSIPPI?

William Simmons:

Uh, I'm not sure I know what you mean by the March on Washington…

QUESTION 55
INTERVIEWER:

WELL THE FACT THAT SO MANY PEOPLE ARE GATHERED TOGETHER SEEMINGLY IN SUPPORT OF THIS CIVIL RIGHTS, UH, MOVEMENT. HOW, WHAT WAS THE RESPONSE OF PEOPLE IN THE STATE WHO WERE AGAINST THAT MOVEMENT?

William Simmons:

Uh, demonstrations in support of civil rights movement had very little effect here because most people felt that they were organized demonstrations. They were not spontaneous outpourings. And then later uh, as, as, the long hot summers began with the rioting in, in Watts, Chicago, Cleveland, Rochester, New York City, uh, wherever, uh, that the feeling began to, to be well, why, why, why are these people coming to Mississippi to try to change things when their own back yard is blowing up?

QUESTION 56
INTERVIEWER:

UH, CUT.

FILM PRODUCTION TEAM:

[Speed. Marker.]

QUESTION 57
INTERVIEWER:

WHAT WAS YOUR RESPONSE NOW, UH, 63, 64, WE'RE STILL IN THAT PERIOD, UH, TO THE GROWING FORMATION OF WHAT WAS CALLED THE FREEDOM DEMOCRATIC PARTY? WHAT DID YOU MAKE OF THIS AS A POLITICAL PHENOMENA?

William Simmons:

Uh, the Freedom Democratic Party uh, was regarded kind of as the activist uh, extreme of the extreme, the activist wing of the Democratic Party, and it was just regarded as a political expression of the, the far left views of the organizers. Certainly a legitimate way to express it, we were opposed to it, but uh, what's more to be said?

QUESTION 58
INTERVIEWER:

WELL, WHAT DID YOU THINK SPECIFICALLY OF WHAT HAPPENED AT ATLANTIC CITY, THE CONVENTION WHERE THEY'RE COUNTERPOSED TO THE TRADITIONAL DELEGATES?

William Simmons:

Oh I see. Well, you're really getting into fuzzy, where I'm fuzzy now. Because we had, we had no direct uh, ties with that.

QUESTION 59
INTERVIEWER:

I'M LOOKING FOR OPINIONS MORE REACTIONS OF, OF PEOPLE.

William Simmons:

Well, the, the general reaction to that was pretty bad. It was a reflection on the credentials committee of the Democratic Party that they recognized these people and of course one significant result of it was it helped push the state toward, toward the Republican column.

QUESTION 60
INTERVIEWER:

OK CUT.

FILM PRODUCTION TEAM:

[Speed. Mark.]

CAMERA CREW MEMBER:

IF YOU CAN TELL US THIS, AND ACTUALLY YOU SHOULD GIVE YOUR ANSWER TO PRUDENCE, AND I THINK IN THE STRONGEST POSSIBLE TERMS, ALSO. PRU, IT'S ALL YOURS.

William Simmons:

In the, in the years of, from 1964, I beg your pardon, 1954 through the middle 1960's…

CAMERA CREW MEMBER:

I THINK WE'D BETTER HAVE YOU START THAT FROM THE BEGINNING.

William Simmons:

Alright. During the period of 1954, 1965 Mississippi was generally regarded as being in the forefront of resistance to forced integration. It was the home of the organized Citizens' Councils, it had generally led the way in resistance to integration, it had led the way in the adoption of resolutions of interposition by various state legislatures. It had generally put up the stoutest resistance and was in the forefront of the fight to preserve racial integrity.

CAMERA CREW MEMBER:

EXCELLENT.

QUESTION 61
INTERVIEWER:

OK CUT, THANK YOU.