Production Team: F
Interview Date: 1979
Camera Rolls: 1, 11-14
Sound Rolls: 5-7
Produced by Blackside, Inc.
Housed at the Washington University Film and Media Archive, Henry Hampton Collection.
Interview with Albert Turner, 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.
Sound Roll 5, Camera Roll 12
UM, WHY DON'T YOU TELL ME ABOUT THAT DAY, THE DEMONSTRATION WHEN… WHEN JIMMY JACKSON DIED?
OK. OK uh, actually the day Jimmy was murdered, in fact Jimmy was murdered at night. Uh, this was the first night demonstration that we had had uh, in this area. We had demonstrated in the daytime, um, all before, and actually we had been demonstrating all day that day, but uh, we had to intensify these, the… drive and we… we had to kind of up the tempo, so we had decided to go day and night. We had a gentleman here at the time by the name of James Orange, who was in jail and uh, we had intended to go to the jail at night, and what we might say, serenade him, uh, uh, let him know that we cared. Uh, so we had formed a demonstration that day, the Methodist Church—the United Methodist Church here in town, and had decided we would walk from that church which was a short span, maybe a block, to the jail and sing to James. Um, the Mayor of the Town had prefabbed uh, a story and gotten the State Troopers and the Government of the State to be on hand that day, by telling him that we had intended to go to the jail and break James out of jail. So this is… this is really how they had gotten the… the masses of people into town, because they, they pretended that we were rioting and tear the jail down that night. Uh, as we went out of the jail we got about a half a block from the door, and uh, we was halted. Um…
EXCUSE ME, AS YOU WENT OUT OF THE JAIL?
Out of the church.
OK, JUST START THAT SENTENCE AGAIN.
Ok, as we went out of the church that night, uh, to begin the actual march, we got roughly about a half a block from the door and uh, the Sheriff of the County at that time, and, and several troopers uh, halted uh, us, because I was leading the demonstration uh, at that time. I was considered the local leader. And uh, we were stopped and told that we was an… unlawful assembly, and that we had to disband the demonstration and go back in – the church. Uh, at that time we had planned already to have a prayer at that point. And uh, we had a Reverend Dobas (?) who stopped and prayed, or he got down to pray. And uh, they came up and took Willie Bolan, who was the, a local… not local uh, worker, but a fellow from out of town, SCLC worker, and they took Bolan across the street and had him to watch what they were going to do to us. And they asked if I was an outsider, and of course, I said no. And uh, I had to identify myself. They wanted me to show identification. So I showed them identification. During the time I was trying to get a… to show identification, they had… they had started punching me in the side with uh, their sticks. And of course, I insisted that they stop, in order for me to show any identification. They let me show the identification, and immediately after that they shove me back into the crowd, you know, there's a line of people behind me really, and they just kind of shoved us back, all of us in front. And they took Reverend Dobas, who was on his knees, immediately behind me praying and they just started beating him right there on the ground. And I guess that was probably the visciousest thing I had ever seen. They beat him and they simply just beat him up off the ground and took him by his heels and drug him to the jail and continued to beat him. Uh, at that point they… they had State Troopers all over the city to be honest with you that night. And they had plain clothes people, they not all were State Troopers, but a lot of citizens really was in… involved and uh, they beat black people wherever they found them to be frank with you. Uh, as we attempted to go back to the church after we had been forced around and, and of course they started whipping people at that point, so all of us tried to get back into the church. The line of demonstrators still was in the door of the church. The demonstration really never did get all the way out of the church. So we couldn't really go back into the front door because uh, it was already uh…
UM, YOU CAN GO—I GUESS START BACK WITH WHEN THEY WERE BEATING AND THEY DRUG AWAY REVEREND DOBINS.
Mmm-hmm, well, Reverend, as… as we was disbanded um, they um, started beating Reverend Dobans who was on his knees at that point prayering, and they carried him to the jail by his heels. And uh, beat him on the way to the jail. Really the public doesn't know, but Dobins died also as a result of the beating. He did not die immediately, but he really never did recuperate from it. He died roughly a year later, but uh his head was severely damaged, and he just never did survive it, uh, but uh, nobody says or says that he really was murdered or killed from that… that demonstration. At that point all of us then was uh, trying to make our way back to the church for safety really. Uh, the town was surrounded, there was no where to go really, the town— the whole town was surrounded that night by uh, auxiliary policy, State Troopers, Sheriffs and everybody who wanted to come in, really who felt like beating folk up. We went around the side of the church in an effort to get back into the church. Some of us tried to go back in the front door and some of us just went where we could, because as we moved they… they also moved. They was whipping us as we went.** And of course, I didn't get hit myself personally and never did, in the whole civil rights struggle, but uh, quite a few people did. Billy clubs was broken on people's head. And uh, I got in the back door of the church and quite a few of the people did, but Jimmy Jackson was not able to make it back in the church. He went down the hill below the church into a small cafe. And then immediately his grandfather was hit in the back of the head with a stick, a Billy club, and his skull was bust, his head was burst, and he came into the church of course, uh he was hit on the back, back of the church. And he left the church and went down to the cafe, a fellow named Mr. Cagey Lee we called him, and he went to have Jimmy to carry him to the hospital. Uh, when he went in Jimmy was kind of disturbed at the condition he was in, and he kind of panicked like, and uh, he was very fond of his old grandfather anyway. Uh, his grandfather had kind of served as a father to them, his daddy was already dead to be honest with you. So he immediately tried to rush out forgetting about what was going on, and take his father to the hospital. And as he attempted to go out of the door of the small cafe that they were in, the… these troopers met him and forced him back into this building. And of course, Jimmy kind of insisted that he wanted to carry his daddy to the doctor, uh, his grandfather, and uh, they insisted that he did not go. And from that uh, they uh, ganged him simply and physically uh, subdued him and put him on the floor of the cafe and there where they started to whip him up and beat him up pretty bad on the floor of the cafe there. And his mother was in the cafe also. She had come down with her daddy. And she just couldn't stand it no longer, so she took a… a drink bottle and tried to knock the people up off of her son, because they were going to kill him right there on the floor it appeared. When she hit them, then they knocked her out, and uh, and then they took Jimmy and pinned him against the walls of the building and uh, at close range they shot him in the side. Just took the pistol and put it in his side and shot him three times. After shooting him then they… then they ran him out of the door of the cafe, out of the front door of the cafe. And as he run out of the door, the remaining troopers or some of the remaining troopers were lined up down the sidewalk back toward the church, which uh, he had to run through a corridor of uh, of uh policemans standing with billy sticks. And as he ran by them they simply kept hitting him as he kept running through. And he made it back to the door of the church, and just beyond the church he fell. And of course he was picked up at that point and carried to the hospital. Uh, he was carried to the Marion Hospital here in town, and he stayed there about an hour or so before, and nobody would wait on him, and uh then he later was taken to the hospital in Selma, where he did receive services. Probably if he had been waited on properly here, his condition would not have been this he may still have died, but it's only speculation. But they did not wait on him. And he… he was probably an hour or two or more probably 2:00 or 3:00 in the morning before he really received uh, medical services after he had been uh, shot and beaten to death. And he was, some people feel that maybe he… he was beaten to death moreso than shot to death. The severe head wounds were pretty bad. But he still died from uh, whatever happened.
OK, UM, HOW DID THE MOVEMENT GET STARTED HERE IN MARION?
Well, at that time uh, the movement was going on everywhere. Uh, this was in '65. I came home from college, myself a, a college graduate, and at that time we had a few black people coming out of college. And uh, we went to town to try to register. We had uh, uh, I had received information from people like the NAACP and so forth, encouraging folks to register to vote. So we organized our local chapter, our local group of people here, and we started trying to teach people how to become registered voters and how to pass this massive test that they had at this time. They had a test that um, had to interpret the constitution and all kind of jive, and about 3 or 400 tests and they'd just draw one. There was no way to learn it. But it became our job or my job or some of the others, who supposed to have been educated to try to teach people how to pass the test, even though we couldn't pass ourselves. And uh, I'd insisted and I had tried and always thought I was a pretty good student myself, and uh it was a kind of an affront to me that these dummies who was the registrars uh, were saying to me that I couldn't pass a test that they was giving, and they couldn't hardly write their names. And as a result it just become a thing that built up and built up and people became angry and uh, and I did myself. And I think it was about '62 when we became a formal organization here called the Perry County Civic League, which was about you know, in '62. And at that point we went all out to try to become registered voters. We had several lawsuits uh, 4 or 500 hundred of us wrote letters to the federal judges and everything. Uh, uh, telling about conditions here. But we had, really had a struggle before at that time, it was a quiet struggle, it was not, uh, you know, not necessarily a quiet struggle, but we did what we thought we could do at that point. And we had received several legal opinions, uh, federal district court and uh, in Mobile. And uh, about '65, I guess we had registered maybe 75 people. In fact, I was registered myself at that point. And they had picked several people like myself and they registered us then. And about January, the Southern Christian Leadership Conference had agreed that they were coming into Alabama, and going to a massive uh, drive here, particularly in Selma, Alabama, they had just come out of Birmingham, uh, dealing with the lunch counter situation, and uh, so they was going to come and try to do what we called a massive drive to deal with the right to vote. Uh, before hand we had a few people like uh, Ivanhoe Donaldson, and uh, some SNCC workers like Preach Preter uh, had come here already, and uh, started talking to us. And actually what happened
YOU WERE TALKING ABOUT THIS ORGANIZATION—VOTER REGISTRATION? SAID THAT YOU WERE REGISTERED… WE WERE JUST ABOUT TO GET TO WHEN YOU STARTED THE DEMONSTRATIONS HERE, THE BIG DEMONSTRATIONS HERE…
Okay. Yeah, alright. I remember now. I think we were talking about how did the movement start. Okay. Um… as I was sayin' what had really happened here, uh, we had had some, some uh people from SNCC to come in. A young man, I can't remember his name, had been here roughly a month or two in the fall of the year. who had worked with us and some of the students. And finally he had gotten a bunch of students with enough nerve to go and uh, test the lunch counter downtown uh, uh to try to get a coke. And it was about thirteen of them went in that afternoon and uh, they was arrested. And uh, all of us then became kind of furious at that point uh, because they was arrested and the way that was handled, for nothing. And it was uh, at the same time we was beaten almost nightly at that time trying to organize ourselves to get registered. But after they was arrested that was the beginning of what we call our direct action program here. Uh, and after we began it, uh, SCLC, at that time was already in Selma, working. And they were spreading sort of the small counties. They decided this part was a good one to come to and they sent some staff here to really do what we call a massive organization for us because we had really some very serious roots into voter registration. We had sued the government and had several lawsuits and had won. And it was working very officiously at that point. So the first Monday in February was registration day and we took about three hundred people there on that day and we decided that we were going and stay in the courthouse until we got registered. And uh, of course we was arrested. And I was put in jail that day and roughly everybody who was there went to jail with us. From that point uh, the next day we insisted that, that everybody go to jail and uh, they arrested about five hundred the next day and then they got up to about uh…
OKAY UM… JUST START OFF WITH FEBRUARY, FEBRUARY FIRST, SO THE FIRST MONDAY IN FEBRUARY WAS UH, WAS THE VOTER REGISTRATION DAY.
Yeah, first, the first Monday in February uh, 1965 was our, was voter registration day. And of course we called this D-Day. We had intended that we had no longer, no longer that we planned to go through the jive of passing no tests so we was just going down and uh, have direct action until we got the right to vote. And we wouldn't leave the courthouse that day, all of us stayed in the court house, we lined up, and we just wouldn't leave and uh, and we stayed in line there all day long. So finally they arrested us, really. And uh put us in jail. From that point we had a mass jail-in at, that culminated in some like about two thousand people in this county were being arrested. And uh, they finally had to turn us all out because they had us in jail anywhere they could put folk in jail. And it got to be a spontaneous thing where all the counties started going to jail around here, too. And everybody had all of the jails filled being aware people's in a pretty bad shape. Uh, after that point we, you know, kind of got… madder and madder whatever you want to say and then the tempo picked up more and more. And uh, about seventeen days later, uh Jimmy Willow was killed but uh, between that date, the first Monday, which was somewhere around the first of February and the seventeenth or eighteenth when he really was shot, we had really been demonstrating all day long, everyday. And uh, finally this time it even, we had decided to go around the clock. We was going to demonstrate day and night. And uh, the police they missed it, they had no… they had no alternative, they didn't know nothing else they could do, Uh, because once they arrested us, all the children in school went to jail and everything. And uh that didn't stop nothing. Every time they would do something, we'd just get worse and worse, I mean we would do more and more. So they decided that they had to kill somebody to uh, to see if they couldn't uh, couldn't stop us. And um, they came to Marion, on February the eighteenth, uh about to kill somebody. They didn't really care who. Uh, they actually came looking for C. T. Vivian, to be honest with you. They had planned to kill C.T. the story goes. I can't prove this. But uh, C.T. spoke to us that night and uh, he got the word that they were looking for him and it kindof flipped him out. So they looked all in the funeral home and everywhere trying to find C.T. Went in caskets and everywhere. But they couldn't find C.T. but they had to have somebody and uh they didn't care too much about who they killed. Jimmy was not uh, anything special in the sense of the word. It was just a black man was going to be killed for the purpose of frightening us and trying to stop us. And many people… (CAR NOISE)…
COULD YOU JUST SAY THAT LAST SENTENCE AGAIN BECAUSE OF THAT CAR?
THEY DIDN'T KILL JIMMY FOR ANYTHING SPECIAL…
Okay. Yeah. Uh, Jimmy, Jimmy Jackson was not any special case uh… they had planned to kill somebody anyway. And uh, they was lookin', they they, you know, whoever got in the way, they, they planned to kill a black person to frighten the rest of us, or stop the movement. It so happened that Jimmy was the person who did get shot. He, he was a… I guess gave him more excuse to be killed than anybody else. He, he tried to carry his father to the doctor after they had insisted that he not come out of the building. He continually wanted to go and take his father to the doctor. So they had somewhat of a confrontation between them. Uh, they shot him. Uh, many other people was brutally beaten that night and several people was left for dead and they played dead to keep from being killed. Uh, but it was a miserable night, uh, Valeriana's head was burst, all the lights were shot out in town. Uh, and black people anywhere that night, they met black people, they beat 'em. People coming from work and anywhere else, they were simply beaten up that night. If you were black you got beat. Uh, it was probably the worst thing that I've been in out of all the civil rights uh things that I have been in, including Selma March Bridge thing. Uh, it wasn't as bad uh, physical as uh, I would say that night.
HOW DID YOU HAPPEN TO BE AT THE SELMA MARCH BRIDGE?
Well, uh… after Jimmy was killed we was infuriated to the point that we wanted to carry Jimmy's body to George Wallace and dump it on the, on the steps of the capitol. We had got about like the white folk are. We had determined or decided that we were going to get killed or we was going to be free. And be frank about it. And all of us just about felt that way. So we had intended to do everything we could so we was mad, I guess you'd say, and we said that we would take Jimmy down and just put his casket on the doorsteps of the capitol.** And of course uh, Dr. King um… kind of talked us out of the idea and decided that uh… let's have a march for real. Uh, all of the people, the whole movement would uh… march to Montgomery and meet with George Wallace, this would be something like the culmination of the… voter registration drive or whatever you want to call it. And uh, they told us to wait and they was getting this together and all of us would go and of course I was supposed to have been representing the people of Marion. I walked second in the line that day as one of the leaders of the movement, John Lewis and Hosea Williams and Bob Mance and myself were considered the four people who made the line. Bob was representing the local SNCC we called it and I represented the local SCLC. Hosea represented nationally the SCLC. and John Lewis supposedly represented the national SNCC. And that's how I ended up second in line that day. But uh, I also at that point was serving as state director of SCLC too, I had to become a full time SCLC worker, I left my tools on the job uh, on that first Monday and didn't go to work. Uh, that first Monday to go get registered and uh of course I haven't gotten a chance to go back to work since uh, to lay any more brick. And uh, as a result I later became the state director of uh, the total movement uh, at that time and I was really there as official of the organization along the fact that… we represented about half the people on that, on that on that march were from Marion. We took cars of people from here. And uh, we were serious at that time because basically the whole thing was around the Jimmy Jackson thing at that point. Other people by that time had been killed I think. Reverend Reeves was dead at that time when the march really came off. But uh, Jimmy was the spark plug of the whole thing and we kind of decided we would wait and have an organized thing instead of just going down out of uh, emotions and carrying the body and drop it on the doorstep of the capitol.
THAT FIRST DAY… UM AT, WHEN THE… UH, BEATINGS UH, AT THE PETTIS BRIDGE IN SELMA… UH, WHAT HAPPENED THAT DAY?
Well… at the Pettis Bridge uh, we had decided that this would be the Sunday that we would uh, attempt to walk from Selma to Montgomery. Of course our… I guess I could say our intelligence, uh, our informers, had informed us that if that happened, that most of us probably would have been thrown off the bridge. Uh, I mean the state trooper was prepared for that Sunday as, as they were, here at Marion with the Jimmy Jackson thing. So uh, I… would have to say the officials of the Selma Christian Leadership Conference had decided that that wasn't the thing to do that day. But the people here in Marion didn't know that. I mean we didn't know, we didn't nothing about the inside, what were going on. So I had carried maybe two or three hundred people from here to Selma to go to Montgomery that day. We had… our little packs on our backs and everything and uh, folks were left you know with the intention of marching that Sunday. And when we got down and found out the police was going to be there and George was giving the kids the word to stop us at all costs. It didn't make no difference— stop us. And we knew that. I mean when I say, "we" I'm talking about the people who was in charge at that time. The marchers didn't really know this. So we stayed there all day calling backwards and forward to… Atlanta trying to find out what should we do and trying to… we was in a dilemma where we had a lot of people there who was determined to walk and of course you know, uh, you couldn't just uh tell people in the Civil Rights Movement like that at that time, "You go back home, we can't march today because everything will be over". So we had to make a rough decision. It was a terrible decision to make uh… it was agonizing… but uh, to keep the movement going, we had to do something. So we finally decided that we would, we would leave the church and go down and uh, and confront the troopers. And uh, turn around and come back. After having to show a prayer. That was the strategy really. So we walked all the way from Brown Chapel that day knowing that we probably wouldn't get back. Uh, we expected that. And uh, we did go down in a large line, all of us walked in twos that day and that made the line very large. We was halted as usual by the state troopers and they told us we was un… unlawfully assembling or whatever they would… they used at that time, and told us that we had to disband and go back. At that time uh, Hosea asked to speak to the man in charge. And of course they started immediately then to getting together their, their stuff to move us. And uh, they told them they didn't have nothin' to talk about. And we had three minutes to get out of the streets. Somebody attempted to pray, I don't remember who. And by that time they got the billy clubs and uh, they formed this line, they had this uh, system where they took the billy clubs and put them in front of them like that and started walking. And of course they formed the line and they canned us over you know, we stood there and they just walked right into you, push you over. I think that's what happened to me that Sunday, I didn't get hit either that Sunday. But uh, in the initial thrust of the thing, I was canned over then. I got knocked down and kind of trampled a little bit. Uh, some more people got beat up instead, but uh, at least at that time all of them knocked me down and in the rush of things. When I kind of came back together…
RAN OUT AGAIN. OK, WE GOTTA CHANGE ONE MORE TIME. MR. TURNER, WHAT HAPPENED WHEN UH, WHEN THEY UH, WHEN THE STATE TROOPERS STARTED TO CHARGE? OR MAYBE YOU CAN JUST TELL US THAT THE STATE TROOPERS STARTED TO CHARGE AND THEY CAME WITH HORSES AND ALL OF THAT.
Yeah, after we was halted on the bridge, uh, the state troopers charged and in… after giving us several minutes to leave. And of course we didn't leave. Uh, they charged us with this Billy clubs, uh horizontally. Canned us over. That's what the idea, you know, you rushin' towards 'em, push us all into each other, and you just can people over. In the process of doing that canning, you know, a lot of us fell and was knocked down. Then they actually beat people like John Lewis, up. John got a severe head wound that… from that, that uh beating. John was physically beaten and other people were physically beaten uh but uh… it appeared that I was knocked over at the initial canning. And some more people struggled before they was knocked over and they eventually stumbled and fell over each other. So, people really kind of was removed about uh… maybe twenty or thirty yards away from me where the real beatings went on. I got up off the ground and found myself almost alone then, a crow—by myself. Uh, people went into hysterics almost at that point. You know, people got real upset and they started runnin' and everything. But we had a… a set of staff members who was bringing up the rear. We was expecting this to happen. And uh, all of us didn't really go in the march all of the staff didn't go in the march. Uh, we had staff that would be prepared for that situation. So their job was to regroup the people once this happened, if some of us got killed or pushed over the bridge or something. And uh, they met the people and had us all, we all then regrouped in the middle of the highway. And this was our way of protecting ourselves, we came all and made a circle and bowed on our knees and made a big circle right in the middle of the road. So that the troopers couldn't beat us no more. Uh, because the circle was a circle that had all the women and the children in the center and all of the men was on the outside of the circle. And uh, there was very few people who would uh, like to get involved in a circle like that. So generally, they don't bother you, in fact I've never known anybody that bothered that circle. They regrouped after we regrouped and they knew which… they knew that there was a pretty difficult situation to deal with us in that, in that big circle like that. So they went back and they regrouped. And in their regrouping they came back out with tear gas. This is the only thing that they had that was effective against the circle. And they tear gassed us and uh we stayed there as long as we could and we had tried to train ourselves as how to deal with tear gas too but uh… you can't stay there for so long. And uh, a lot of people panicked at that point too. And of course we, we directed the people then to kind of run away from the road. And go into kind of a… a ravine like that kind of give us a natural protection. So we all went in there and at this point we get everybody wounded and took people to the doctor and these kinds of things. We counseled with people and pacified folks and calmed them down. And then we kind of later drifted back to the church. A staff member like myself had to stay until everybody else was situated. Uh, we had to see that the people was properly uh, taken care and gotten out. So, after everybody had eventually gone, then it was my turn to try to make it back to the church. At this point as we went back across the bridge, it didn't go back in an organized march. Uh, people went back drifting. Some people was marchin' and some peoples in line, but uh, people was at that point all… shook up. And this is a point where we really was ran with the horses. See we had a bunch of guys who rode horses and whipped us with, with, with cow whips. And made us run back to the church. We couldn't just walk back to the church. And uh… anybody who tried to walk back in an orderly manner was physically whipped. And ran with horses. And of course they drove us back with sticks and billy clubs and anybody they could catch, they really whipped them up, on the way back to the church, all the way back through the housing projects and things. And uh, we still was able to kind of survive it and not get into a big melee. We finally got back to the church of course and uh, almost all of us, eventually ended up at the church. We had our meeting that evening and talked to the people and let them know that we wasn't going to stop then of course uh, disbanded and went home.
COULD YOU TELL ME UH HOW MANY, TELL ME NOW ABOUT THE SUCCESS, WHAT THE OUTCOME OF ALL THAT VOTER REGISTRATION IS. JUST TELL ME RIGHT NOW IN MARION COUNTY HOW MANY PEOPLE ARE REGISTERED? WHAT PERCENTAGES?
Well as a result uh… we haven't stopped here, even in our own home town. And we consider our movement being about fifteen or sixteen years old here now. Uh, at this point we consider ourselves as being somewhat ninety-five percent or better, registered voters here. Uh, we pride ourselves in the fact that almost everybody is a registered voter in Perry County. Uh… in the last election we finally got to what we call "perfection". We turned out thirty-six hundred voters out of forty hundred registered. And uh, this is pretty much all we have that we could register in a sense. We were able to take uh, the total government seat this year. Uh, it didn't all happen this year. Uh, we had two people already elected to the county commissioners' that was elected two years ago. We elected one person to the Board of Education two years ago. And uh, six years ago we made our very first initial election. We elected one person to the Board of Education. All told now we have a total of four black people on the Board of Education out of five and uh, we intend to appoint a black superintendent, uh, come June 30th, when this season ends. Uh, the sheriff of this county is a black man now. The tax collector and tax assessor is black. Uh… we have three of the four uh, people who's on the county commissioners' are black. And of course they still hold the probate judge's office until next election. And uh, they have the circuit clerk until next election. And uh, this is, generally what's happenin' in the black belt. Green County has uh, basically taken the total government, I think they may not even have a white person in it at all…
WE'RE JUST GOING TO USE MARION.
OK, THAT'S FINE, THANK YOU. LET'S STOP FOR JUST A SECOND. LET ME THINK IF THERE'S ONE OTHER THING. THAT'S ALL? OK. I GUESS WE BETTER UH, CALL IT.
THANK YOU VERY MUCH.