Interview with John Handcox
Interview with John Handcox
Interview Date: February 02, 1992

Camera Rolls: 315:7-11
Sound Rolls: 315:5-7
Interview gathered as part of The Great Depression .
Produced by Blackside, Inc.
Housed at the Washington University Film and Media Archive, Henry Hampton Collection.
Editorial Notes:

Preferred citation:
Interview with John Handcox , conducted by Blackside, Inc. on February 02, 1992, for The Great Depression . 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 The Great Depression.

*
INTERVIEW
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[camera roll 315:7] [sound roll 315:5] [slate marker visible on screen]
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QUESTION 1
CAMERA CREW MEMBER

OK... go for it.

INTERVIEWER:

You were going to tell me about what life was like on the plantations, the large plantations.

JOHN HANDCOX:

Plantations, that was more than, I'd say more than one person, there was a bunch of people that had houses. Maybe on a farm would be, there'd be, four or five thousand acres, on some of them, on some of the big farms. They'd have houses, and you could, they put, build them out of green lumber and when they dry up, you could stick your hand through, and the people who moved in there, they'd take quilts, grass sacks and whatever they could to break that, stop that wind from coming inside. Most of them had heaters, where you'd burn wood in them to keep warm.

INTERVIEWER:

So, the—

CAMERA CREW MEMBER

 [ gap: ;reason: unintelligible ] , sit up straight.

INTERVIEWER:

The landowners, people were living in these pretty bad conditions, but the landowners didn't care?

JOHN HANDCOX:

No, the landowners didn't care, they'd, people would have to stop them, they'd take old clothes, just about rotten,  [ gap: ;reason: unintelligible ]  put them through the planks to keep the air from coming in, the wind from coming in.

INTERVIEWER:

Why didn't the landowners care?

JOHN HANDCOX:

Well, they, they figured they had the people by the neck, they could lead them anyway...they had to depend on, you see, in a way, when you depending on somebody else, and that's your only dependence, he can treat you most any let me way, and you have to take it. You may not love it, but you have to take it.

INTERVIEWER:

So what do you mean by, the landlord figured he had them by the neck?

JOHN HANDCOX:

Well, on some of those farms it was the same as being in jail. They couldn't leave this farm, especially if they say they owe them something. You got to stay and work here, work it out. Most of them didn't know what they owed, because they never got no bills for what, for what they was getting. They have a commissary store, well, they called it the commissary, but a store where they go get the flour and the meal and whatever, the store carried so many things that the store didn't carry. They carried the meat, and the flour, and the meal, maybe baking powders, but, you know, and a little sugary. Some things they'd have an allowance on, where you couldn't get but just so much.

INTERVIEWER:

So you go to the store, and you get your stuff, and then what happened, tell me—

JOHN HANDCOX:

Well, they made a bill, and when you gather your crop, they take it out of whatever your crop would bring, and you take most of some people what was on those big plantations. And they didn't get, they didn't get no bill, or nothing, they just go get, and the man put down whatever he want to put down for it. So when I went down there, I had to go to the store, I said I want a bill. A bill? Yeah, I said, I want a statement of what I get, now, if you don't want to give me a statement, I don't want the grocery. So, he goes, I think I owed him more than fifty dollars, and that was a great big heap, you know, a big pile of money at that time. But we made the money out of our crop, we had to, it was, when you gather your crop in.  [ gap: ;reason: unintelligible ]  others would have been there, been getting whatever, never getting no statement and just go get, and go on home. They didn't have nothing.

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QUESTION 2
INTERVIEWER:

Now, you said that, after you made your crop, you would settle up. How would, tell me about, tell me about settling up.

JOHN HANDCOX:

Well, that would depend on, you know, there was two ways to make a deal. If you didn't have any stock, the man, the plantation owner who furnished you the mules and the hoes and the sacks and everything, who furnished you the mules and the hoes and things to make the crop, and the cotton sacks where you picking the crop [sic]. You know what a cotton sack is, don't you? Well, I thought you'd had one on your shoulder. [laughs] Question? I'm waiting.

INTERVIEWER:

No, you were telling me about the two ways to settle up. One way is that the owner would, would provide you with some things, and the other way was—you didn't tell me.

JOHN HANDCOX:

Well, well, I say, when I moved down, see, I wasn't raised in this rich land, wasn't raised, I was raised on the heel  [ gap: ;reason: unintelligible ] . Anyway, I wasn't used to having, getting credit, my dad, we managed to not make an account. We tried to live on what we had without going in debt. We didn't go in debt. When, after my dad got killed and we moved to this, this rich land down there, so, we got a little stuff from them. When the crop was harvested and over with, the boss come in and told us, Handcox, says, y'all are good workers, but we can't make no money off of you, 'cause you don't come to the store to get stuff. So, say, you good workers and everything, but we can't use you. So we went and rented another place and stayed on there for a year or so. Then the Union come along, and I had to go.

INTERVIEWER:

Let's stop for a second.

[cut][slate]
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QUESTION 3
INTERVIEWER:

Now, you were going to tell me about splitting the crop.

JOHN HANDCOX:

Hmm?

INTERVIEWER:

Third and the fourth, is what you were talking about.

JOHN HANDCOX:

Oh, that was...when you had your mule and your plow and your hoes and everything, to cultivate your crop with, then you would get, you owed the third and fourth, and when you didn't have that, you had to use the planter's mules and plows and hoes and stuff like that, see. The sharecropper didn't have to pay for them. That's what they called, a sharecropper, you work, and you're supposed to get half whatever you raised, if you made two bales of cotton, you get one and the landlord get one, if you raised two loads of corn, you get one and the landlord get one, that's what's called sharecropping. But when you were working on the third and fourth, or  [ gap: ;reason: unintelligible ] , you take three bales of cotton and he take one bale of cotton for the use of the land. And the corn, you give him one load of corn, three loads, he get one of those.

INTERVIEWER:

So did people work more on third and fourth, or did they work more as sharecroppers?

JOHN HANDCOX:

Was more sharecroppers, more people that didn't have no animals to plow the corn. See, we didn't have no, machine  [ gap: ;reason: unintelligible ]  like you got today, see, so that today, one man can get out there and plow up more than a hundred men used to plow with the mules in a day, one machine.

INTERVIEWER:

Now, could, do you know if the sharecroppers and tenant farmers saw machines coming, did they see that things were going to change because of machines?

JOHN HANDCOX:

No, I don't think they, they were thinking that far in advance.

INTERVIEWER:

Do you think the planters were thinking that far in advance?

JOHN HANDCOX:

Well, the planters was thinking, because that was the machine, they didn't have to depend on all the work that was being done by hand. It would have to have more people to do it, but when they get down to one man and one of those big machines doing as much as maybe twenty men in a day—

[camera cuts, audio continues]
JOHN HANDCOX:

—eight and ten row cultivators. And then they got the cotton picking machine, it'd pick a bale of cotton from one end to the other, or something like that. They didn't have no use for the cotton, people to come out there and put them bags on their back, and pick cotton.

INTERVIEWER:

We're out?

CAMERA CREW MEMBER

We're out.

INTERVIEWER:

OK.

[audio cuts][slate][change to camera roll 315:08][sound roll 315:05]
JOHN HANDCOX:

Back in the thirt—

INTERVIEWER:

Wait. Now you can begin.

JOHN HANDCOX:

Well, that was back in the thirty, twenties and thirties, so, when I was out on the farm, was farming. Then they were, we were, where I lived, where I was born, that was, it was  [ gap: ;reason: unintelligible ] , the cotton didn't get over knee high, it was tall if it got knee high, it was tall cotton. When we got down to the bottom, we had to reach up, cotton-picking, reach up to get the bolls of cotton. Anyway, after my father got killed we went down to the bottom, went down there, we made a crop working  [ gap: ;reason: unintelligible ] . We had our own stock, and we were on, what's it called, the third and the fourth, we give him the third load of corn and the fourth bale of cotton. So, anyway, we stayed on this plantation one year, and a man come and told us, say, "Well, Handcox, you're good workers, but we can't, we can't let you live with, anymore." He says, "Sorry, but we, you'll have to find somewhere else to go." So we did, and they say because, we don't, we can't make no money off of you. See, I made just about a clear crop, one bale of cotton paid for all the groceries and things I got from them, and that's, the land down there makes two and three bales of cotton to the acre.

INTERVIEWER:

But you had told me—

CAMERA CREW MEMBER

 [ gap: ;reason: unintelligible ]  just stop.

INTERVIEWER:

Yeah.

[cut]
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QUESTION 4
[slate]
CAMERA CREW MEMBER

Line.

INTERVIEWER:

You can begin telling me about can to can't.

JOHN HANDCOX:

Oh, can to can't? Well, that was, most of the people worked down there from can to can't, that's from the time they could see until they can't see. That was on plantations especially, they didn't have, they'd have a hour from from twelve to one o'clock, but that was mostly for the stock to eat, the mules, it was mostly for them, they didn't care if the people ate or not. It was, you'd have an hour. You worked from you can, that was when there was light enough to see, we called that from 'can', and you worked until you 'can't', that was when you can't see. We called it from can to can't, worked from can to can't, didn't have no eight or ten hour day, you worked there from the time you can see 'til the time you can't see.

INTERVIEWER:

Now, because of situations like that, is that why you all got together to form the STFU?

JOHN HANDCOX:

Yeah, it was the condition of the people why we start, begin to organize, and the people, the next thing the people was, was not getting paid for what they had produced. They just, the way they were doing it  [ gap: ;reason: unintelligible ] , you just get what is [sic] you want and they'd tell you, Oh,  [ gap: ;reason: unintelligible ]  that come out of your debt, they'd never give your bill, see, so you couldn't say it was wrong, he wasn't right. So, when we, the Southern Tenant Farmer's Union was organized and we went to open the eyes of the people, some of the planters, it made them mad, made them, I mean, peoples [sic], they couldn't live on the plantation and be in the Union.

INTERVIEWER:

So, do you remember the plantation owners evicting people?

JOHN HANDCOX:

Do I remember evicting people? Oh yeah, I remember, I don't think I can remember the names of all of them, but as a whole, in the  [ gap: ;reason: unintelligible ] , on the rich land, that was the way they did it. 'Course, that wasn't altogether just the white man, there were some colored people that was kind of wealthy, Scott Bond, the Bonds, maybe you've heard of them, and they seemed like they treated their people worse than other people did.

INTERVIEWER:

So it wasn't just race, it was more the rich versus the poor?

JOHN HANDCOX:

Yes, the rich versus the poor.

INTERVIEWER:

Tell me more about that.

JOHN HANDCOX:

Well, the main thing about it is, the poor man had to, it wasn't because he wanted to, you see, he had to get, he had a family, poor man had a family. But if you got a family especially if you've got some kids four or five years old, when they get to saying Dad, I'm hungry, and crying, because they don't have anything to eat, you're going to do something, if you ain't nothing but kill somebody, to get, to quiet them kids.

INTERVIEWER:

So you knew people that felt like that, that felt like killing somebody sometime?

JOHN HANDCOX:

Oh sure, I knew people, try to kill somebody, rob them, or something. When you get hungry, you do anything. Someone get to talking, Brother, you'd go anywhere and do anything for something fill you. [laughs]

INTERVIEWER:

And, there were a lot of hungry people, a lot of hungry sharecroppers and tenant farmers?

JOHN HANDCOX:

Well, if they were good workers, because they could, I mean, they go up to the commissaries and stores and things, they didn't get, there wasn't too many I'd say getting hungry. More raggedy people than they was hungry people, 'course they didn't have the appetite, didn't have what they should have to put in the stomach. Some fatback, what they call the fatback meat, and some of them had gardens for their turnip greens, and something like that.

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QUESTION 5
INTERVIEWER:

Now, tell me about the relationship between the planters and the sharecroppers. You know, you told me outside that sometimes it was pretty brutal, and that they treated people worse, in many cases, than they treated mules, and so forth. As a matter of fact, you told me this little saying about, "Kill a mule," and whatnot. Tell me a little bit about that, and tell me that saying also.

JOHN HANDCOX:

Well, you take one of those big plantations, they had, well, some of those big plantations, when you moved on them, they had guards there where you couldn't leave that plantation.

INTERVIEWER:

Wait a minute, wait, let's stop, just a second.

[cut]
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QUESTION 6
[slate]
CAMERA CREW MEMBER

Mark it.

INTERVIEWER:

No, we were talking about the relationship, and whatnot, and about how he treated animals sometimes better than they did people, and there was a saying about the mule and the, and the nigger.

JOHN HANDCOX:

Oh yeah, well, that's an old saying, If you kill a mule, buy another, hire a nigger... let me see, killed a mule, buy another... killed a Negro, hire another.

INTERVIEWER:

No, tell me that again.

JOHN HANDCOX:

Kill a mule, buy another, and kill a Negro, buy, hire another one.

INTERVIEWER:

OK, I need for you to tell me that again, and tell me why, how that saying came about.

JOHN HANDCOX:

Oh, well, how it came about was, it was mostly on them big plantations. What was it, you know, I wasn't raised up on it, nothing but  [ gap: ;reason: unintelligible ]  know about it. They treated, I know they treated the animals better than, the working animals, better than they did the Negroes. 'Course it wasn't the Negro by hisself [sic], it was whites too, poor whites suffered too.

INTERVIEWER:

Can you tell me that saying again?

JOHN HANDCOX:

Kill a mule, buy another, kill a nigger, hire another.

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QUESTION 7
INTERVIEWER:

Now, most of these plantation owners were white, and you were telling me outside that some of them could be really mean. As a matter of fact, you said that, there were some good white people, some of them was good, but some of them was so rotten that they stink.

JOHN HANDCOX:

Yeah, [laughs].

INTERVIEWER:

Can you tell, I want you, I want you to tell me that again.

JOHN HANDCOX:

That was the way it was, some of them, there was good whites. Just like it is today, there were some good whites and some bad ones, but you take most of the places in Arkansas, the whites thought they was better than the Negroes. They was taught that, we didn't go to school together like we do out here. Negroes had them a little three month school, he go, white have a nine month school, they go.

INTERVIEWER:

Can you tell me what you told me outside, about there were some good people, but there were some rotten people?

JOHN HANDCOX:

Oh yeah, that's sure, yeah, you don't have to go back to Arkansas to find some good people and some—

[camera cuts]
JOHN HANDCOX:

—rotten people.

INTERVIEWER:

We're out.

[audio cuts]
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QUESTION 8
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CAMERA CREW MEMBER

Mark.

INTERVIEWER:

OK Mr. Handcox, you were going to tell me about, how you wrote "Roll the Union On," and then sing a little bit for us.

JOHN HANDCOX:

No, I was in Memphis when I wrote, Memphis, Tennessee. I was sitting out in the yard,  [ gap: ;reason: unintelligible ]  we was in a motel, sitting out in the yard. Someone come to me, and I wrote it, and it's been number one they say from then on, when I, when I, we went on a fund-raising trip to New York, I stopped by the Library of Congress, and a  [ gap: ;reason: unintelligible ]  father recorded them. I played 'Roll the Union On', 'Mean Things Happening in this Land', which is the subject of that book, and 'Raggedy, Raggedy We, just as raggedy, raggedy as can be'. I, several songs, of course I'm getting old and forgetful, so...[laughs]

INTERVIEWER:

Can you sing some for me?

JOHN HANDCOX:

Yep, what you want to hear, "We Gonna Roll the Union On?"

INTERVIEWER:

Yes.

JOHN HANDCOX:

"We gonna roll, we gonna roll, we gonna roll the Union on, we gonna roll, we gonna roll, we gonna roll the Union on. If the boss is in the way we gonna roll it over him, we roll it over him, we gonna roll it over him, if the boss is in the way we gonna roll it over him, we roll the Union on. We gonna roll, we gonna roll, we gonna roll the Union on, we gonna roll, we gonna roll, we gonna roll the Union on. If Bush is in the way, we gonna roll it over him, we roll it over him, we gonna roll it over him, if Bush is in the way, we gonna roll it over him, roll the Union on. We gonna roll, we gonna roll, we gonna roll the Union on, we gonna roll, we gonna roll, we gonna roll the Union on." Now, see, I didn't think I was gonna get away with that one, when I put them verses in there about Bush, people, [laughs] people taking it, I had to say it some three or four times.

INTERVIEWER:

Can you give me a little of "Mean Things Happening?"

JOHN HANDCOX:

"There is mean things happening in this land, there is mean things happening in this land, but the Union going on, and the Union growing strong, there is mean things happening in this land. On the eighteenth day of May, the Union called a strike, the planters and the bosses, throw the people out their shacks. There is mean things happening in this land, there is mean things happening in this land, but the Union going on, and the Union growing strong, there is mean things happening in this land."

INTERVIEWER:

Any other song? Raggedy, raggedy something?

JOHN HANDCOX:

"Raggedy, raggedy are we, just as raggedy as raggedy can be, we don't get nothing for our labor, so raggedy, raggedy are we. Hungry, hungry are we, just as hungry as hungry can be, we don't get nothing for our labor, so hungry, hungry are we. Homeless, homeless are we, just as homeless as can be, we don't get nothing for our labor, so homeless, homeless are we."

CAMERA CREW MEMBER

 [ gap: ;reason: inaudible ]  the first verse  [ gap: ;reason: inaudible ] ?

INTERVIEWER:

Can you sing the first verse of Raggedy, Raggedy again?

JOHN HANDCOX:

"Raggedy, raggedy are we, just as raggedy as raggedy are we, we don't get nothing for our labor, so raggedy, raggedy are we."

INTERVIEWER:

Now...why did you write all of those, and—

JOHN HANDCOX:

Well, it's, writing the way of the conditions that people were living under, that's what, that's what called me to write, "Mean Things Happening in this Land, Raggedy, Raggedy are We, Homeless, Homeless are We." 'Course, when they put on the strike down there, they just take the people and just throw the little beds and stuff they had, just moved them out on the highways.

[baby—or cat—crying in background]
CAMERA CREW MEMBER

Let's stop. Stop.

INTERVIEWER:

What is that?

[cut][slate]
CAMERA CREW MEMBER

Line. Mark, mark.

INTERVIEWER:

You were going to sing for me. You were going to sing.

JOHN HANDCOX:

Well now, what you want me to sing, we gonna—

INTERVIEWER:

"We Gonna Roll the Union On."

JOHN HANDCOX:

"We gonna roll, we gonna roll, we gonna roll the Union on, we gonna roll, we gonna roll, we gonna roll the Union on. If the scabs are in the way, we gonna roll it over them, roll it over them, we gonna roll it over them, if the scabs are in the way, we gonna roll the Union on, we gonna roll the Union on. We gonna roll, we gonna roll, we gonna roll the Union on, we gonna roll, we gonna roll, we gonna roll the Union on."

INTERVIEWER:

Thank you. Now, can you tell me again why you wrote that song?

JOHN HANDCOX:

Well, I wrote it, let me see how to make it clear...no, people at that time was getting a bad deal from the planters. They even, they found out about them joining the Union and everything, and they evicted them from the places, done everything. 'Course, it was bad before them, but it got worse when they heard about the Union. As when I wrote the song, I was, I had to escape, you see, they had the rope and the limb, and all they want was me, so I went over to Memphis and stayed over there one or two. Then they set me up in, Mitchell had me to go up in Missouri, was a farm up there, his name was Thad Snow, I went up and he welcomed me, 'cause he was a Socialist, he didn't believe in all this racism which most of the whites did at that time. See, at that time, some of the other, most of the poor white folks, anyway, so, Negroes didn't have no sense [sic] or no nothing. They, treat them the right way, wasn't nothing was too—for them to even kill a Negro, somebody killed him to see how high he'd jump, shoot him to see how high him [sic] jump, or shoot him to see how he'd fall, or all that let me stuff. So anyway, when we got the Union, we got the Union going. the white and the blacks was all, all together, and we were coming from, we were going to Little Rock—we was having our annual program over there—and they chartered a car, you know, a coach, and we was on the way over there, were all together, white and black.

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QUESTION 9
INTERVIEWER:

What was it, what was it about the Union that made black and white be able to come together?

JOHN HANDCOX:

Well, the conditions was what made us to, helped us to organize the Union, the conditions people were living under. The poor whites suffered just as much as the poor blacks, and maybe more.

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QUESTION 10
INTERVIEWER:

Now, were there, as a union organizer, what did you do?

JOHN HANDCOX:

Well, I, first thing, I think I was just about the first one to go around, start going around from plantation to plantation, trying to organize. After we had discovered, got together and discussed it, about what should be done, well, I was eager to go, of course, so. I felt sorry for the people in, 'course I didn't suffer quite like some of them did from it, you know, 'cause I had my own stock and everything to work this land—

[camera cuts, audio continues]
JOHN HANDCOX:

—and as I say, the only thing was kind of me bothering us was, they find out that we belonged to the Union and everything, they didn't want us to be on the place.

INTERVIEWER:

We need to stop. That's good, though.

[audio cuts][slate][change to camera roll 315:10][sound roll 315:07]
CAMERA CREW MEMBER

Mark.

JOHN HANDCOX:

Well, it was, as I said, Mitchell was a white man, he was a, he had a dry-cleaning, he was a dry-cleaner up at Troy[?], Arkansas. Him and Claude William and all of, got together and was talking about the Union and everything, and so, that's where I got acquainted with Claude William and Mitchell, through him. We were setting the Union down in Arkansas, and after we got it set up and everything, the planters got ahold of it, so I had to get going, they said they had the rope and the limb, and all they wanted was me. I was on the river, out on the river when a friend of mine, he was a white friend, he told mama, he went up to the store and told mama, you better tell Johnny to get away from here, because they going to kill him. Mama come down on the river and holler for me to come, I told her, "Is it one of the kids?"  [ gap: ;reason: unintelligible ]  rushed on back to where she was. Says, "John, you better get away from here, they say they got the rope and the limb and all they want is you." I was, "Oh Mama, I had a hot  [ gap: ;reason: unintelligible ] , Oh Mama, I ain't going nowhere. I'm going to get on side of this hill, and put something on their mind." "No, no, John," say, "if you just hurt one of them, or just shoot at one of them, they going to kill us all." So, I taken [sic] her at her word and I left. I went over and caught the bus, went on in to Memphis, stayed around over there until Mitchell asked me, would I want to go up in the northern part  [ gap: ;reason: unintelligible ] , this Socialist guy, Mitchell, I mean, Snow. He was, he had a farm and everything, but he was a Socialist and everything. I went up there, he welcomed me and everything, he had a house and everything.

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QUESTION 11
INTERVIEWER:

That's, that's, that's good, that's very good. Let me ask you, you said that you were afraid for your life, and your family was afraid for your life. Violence was pretty common, but you were willing to fight back, I mean, you had guns, you were willing to fight back?

JOHN HANDCOX:

No, I was ready to try to get out the way, if I had to fight back. We had, see, my mama, I take my mother at her word. When she heard about it, she told me, you better get away from here, they say they got the rope and the limb and all they want is you. The first thing I thought of, get my high-powered rifle and getting out on the side of them hills, and greet them with something when they come for me. Mama said, "No, John," said, "You don't have to kill one, you just hurt one, you don't have to kill one, just hurt one, they'll kill us all." Well, they would. Negroes used to be, they had no value to them. They had an old saying, Kill a nigger, hire another, kill a horse, a mule, buy another, that was an old saying they had. So, at that time, we wasn't looked upon as people, you might say.

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QUESTION 12
INTERVIEWER:

Now, one of the reasons they were looking for you was because of this speech that you had given? Standing under the moon? It was a full moon, and it was just like it was day outside, but you gave this speech, so, and the bosses had something to say about this speech. Can you tell me about that?

JOHN HANDCOX:

Well, it was, the moon was shining at night all right when I got the people all together, and there was talk of it, and I was telling them about this Union, and telling them what it means to us to be united, because so many of them wasn't getting justice out of what they produced. I told them about, if we get together we can demand something, we couldn't demand nothing unless we were together. So, anyway, that went on, I started setting up little locals here and there, I had to go from one plantation to another, and I had several locals let me starting, until the planters, they got in the wind what was going on, and I had to get ready, get out of there [laughs].

INTERVIEWER:

Did any, can you remember anything that any of the planters or their bosses actually said to you?

JOHN HANDCOX:

Well, not exactly, because I never did say, face any of the bosses or the planters, because they told, they tell somebody else, like they was talking to this friend of mine, what come back and told me about some, say they gonna hang me, had the rope and the limb. Well, they didn't, just, imagine if they thought he knew me, they wouldn't had said it so he could of heard it, but he heard it and come along and told mama, and mama told me, so I better get ready, get out of there, because they were going to hang me.

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QUESTION 13
INTERVIEWER:

Now, the meetings, the Union meetings, you had to sneak and have the Union meetings because the bosses or whomever would come and try to break them up? Is that accurate?

JOHN HANDCOX:

Well, no, we have a, we didn't have a meeting I don't think he interrupted by the gang. But after we, after I heard about it, I guess it, maybe, some six months or so that passed, I had set up, set up several locals, go from place to place, I had an old horse I'd ride around and see the people. I had quite a large organization, we had all got in touch with  [ gap: ;reason: unintelligible ]  Mitchell, he was in Memphis and everything, we had several locals going.

INTERVIEWER:

Now, what about the sheriffs, what would they do? I mean, they knew that you, that people were being beaten, and threatened, and whatnot, what would the sheriffs do?

JOHN HANDCOX:

Beat you, beat the Negroes some more, yes.

INTERVIEWER:

Tell me more about that.

JOHN HANDCOX:

We weren't protected. Whatever those farmers, whatever those rich people tell them, sheriffs'd do, that's what they did. It wasn't, they wasn't doing it on their own altogether, but whatever they told them to do...they had an old saying there, kill a nigger, kill a mule, buy another, kill a nigger, hire another. That's the way, just about the way it was.

INTERVIEWER:

But, like, the sheriff was elected—

CAMERA CREW MEMBER

I'm sorry, can we stop a second? There's a lot of creaking.

INTERVIEWER:

Yeah.

[audio cuts][slate]
INTERVIEWER:

Now.

JOHN HANDCOX:

The sheriffs and everything, it was all, was white, and just about, I don't know whether there was a Negro sheriff between Little Rock and Memphis, it was all white. They had the Ku Klux Klans and stuff like that, those officers and policemen and things, they all belonged to this Ku Klux Klan, which was a white organization. And when they heard about the Union, that the Union was accepting, was all together white and black, we didn't have no white union and a black union, but we had all, we'd all meet together, and that all let me upset what the Klans and things were doing, and they wanted to get rid of us.

[missing figure]CKFqcLVYp0M
QUESTION 14
INTERVIEWER:

So what did the STFU want, what did you guys want?

JOHN HANDCOX:

What did we want?

INTERVIEWER:

Yes.

JOHN HANDCOX:

I wasn't say, asking us what we wanted,  [ gap: ;reason: unintelligible ]  what we want—

INTERVIEWER:

Hang on a second, is that plane OK?

CAMERA CREW MEMBER

 [ gap: ;reason: inaudible ] 

INTERVIEWER:

OK.

CAMERA CREW MEMBER

OK.

JOHN HANDCOX:

It was, what we want was in the program, it was what was they going to let us do, or give us, because they wasn't giving us anything. We worked for everything we got, but they was the ones who made all the laws, and we had to obey the law, whatever it was. We wasn't protected, especially the Negroes, we wasn't protected by law, you could, they could do anything to a Negro. I remember, it was a Negro come from Louisiana, and he's cross, crossing a bridge at Clarion[?], he was going through the country looking for work—

[camera cuts, audio continues]
JOHN HANDCOX:

—and they caught him just as he crossed the bridge, he walked across on the bridge, and they caught him, and they hung him. My father went to Clarion[?] to see it.

INTERVIEWER:

Let's stop.

[cut][slate][change to camera roll 315:11][sound roll 315:07]
JOHN HANDCOX:

Coming, coming across the bridge.

INTERVIEWER:

Yeah, coming across the bridge.

JOHN HANDCOX:

Yeah, that was a—

INTERVIEWER:

Hang on. Now, can you start and tell me that story again?

JOHN HANDCOX:

Oh, yeah, it was a colored guy from Louisiana was coming across the bridge, the railroad bridge, and when he crossed it, the white police  [ gap: ;reason: unintelligible ]  picked him up, and they had this girl lived about twelve or fifteen miles from Clarion, and they sent and got this girl, and she said, "He's the man." She told her father that some man was trying to break into her room. So, what it was, they say, this man was going with the girl, and he went in, he lived right 'round in the community, but going out the window, fell, her daddy jumped up, heard it, and he run in there to see what happened, and she said, "Nigger, nigger, nigger jumped out the window." And they killed this Negro, but this Negro what they killed, now, they caught him as he was crossing the Cash River in Clarendon, Arkansas, and they picked him up, they carried him, and sent for this girl to come down there, and she said, "That's the nigger." And the man told him, just before my daddy went out  [ gap: ;reason: unintelligible ] , my daddy said, he told them, that was his last words, where they picked him up was as far north as he'd ever been, but they hung him just the same. The Negro, they went through, they've suffered a lot since they been in America. You know, they was, we was brought here by the white. The Indians owned this part of, and after the white man discovered it, they went back to Africa and brought the Negroes over.

[missing figure]CKFqcLVYp0M
QUESTION 15
INTERVIEWER:

Yeah. Now, let me ask you something else. When you think about the lynchings, and the kind of violence that was inflicted upon STFU members just because you wanted what was right, and you think back about that, how does that make you feel?

JOHN HANDCOX:

Well, I try not to think about it, that's the first thing. Anything that's going to make you feel bad, anything, even down to eating, if you eat something and it make [sic] you feel bad, and you don't want to continue, you might have to, but you don't, you just take a little part of it. So that's the way that,  [ gap: ;reason: unintelligible ]  what's it called,  [ gap: ;reason: unintelligible ] . Make it so you can understand me, is that, some little things will hurt you just as well as big. It don't have to be a big thing all the time.

INTERVIEWER:

But I guess, now that I'm here, asking you these questions and you can't help but think about it, you know, how does it make you feel?

JOHN HANDCOX:

Well, I just feel good that I'm away from all that and don't have to go through with it no more. I hope.

INTERVIEWER:

But, I mean, do you feel any anger, do you feel...?

JOHN HANDCOX:

No, I don't feel any anger, because, what is to be, will be. You may, you may not understand it, but that's the way I see life. Whatever, whatever to be, will be. Now, take this meeting we're holding here now, whatever you might, if it's a meeting, that was to be. And things not to be, it won't be.

[missing figure]CKFqcLVYp0M
QUESTION 16
INTERVIEWER:

Now, when you think back about the STFU, the kind of courage that you all had to have, to stand up to the planters and whatnot, what makes you the most proud about what you guys did?

JOHN HANDCOX:

Well, what make [sic] me, I feel good about the things I helped did, and others help did, to try and make this a better world to live in, see. This is not, when we organized this Union, we organized the Union under, under the purpose of trying, that was our ideal, trying to make this a better world to live in. If we get together, then we can demand. If enough of us get together we can demand things. Before, you there, I here, and he over there, we can't demand things. I think one way, you think another, you can't. But we got to get together, we got to unite. When they say union, that means that we unites [sic] together. Not just...

INTERVIEWER:

Now, as you sit here now, and you think back about the planters, and whatnot, and the way they treated the croppers, and whatnot, how do you feel about them?

JOHN HANDCOX:

Well, that's over. Best, look forward, not backwards. Hmm.

INTERVIEWER:

Well, do you feel sorry for them, do you pity them, or do you just—

JOHN HANDCOX:

No, no, I just try to forget it. What is, has been done, is done. There's no, there's nothing you can do to them, ever make things any better than it was then. I mean, that's the past, but we got to live by the day. Don't look back, always look forwards. You understand what I mean.

INTERVIEWER:

Yes, Sir.

JOHN HANDCOX:

By looking forward, going forwards? Doing the things, treating others as you wish to be treated, that's one thing we should do.

[pause]
INTERVIEWER:

Let's stop for a minute.

[camera cuts, audio continues]
JOHN HANDCOX:

Say, I tell you, but, ain't but one thing that's going to make this a better world to live in, we's got to unite. We's got to forget the color of the skin. You understand what I'm talking about? We's got to forget our nationalities. I'm a black man, you a white man, are you better than I am because you're white, are better than me...? We got to get together, that's the only thing that's ever gonna make this world a happy place.

CAMERA CREW MEMBER

That last was a wild track, I guess...take, John Handcox, take eleven up.

[audio cuts][slate][camera frozen, audio begins]
JOHN HANDCOX:

He never went to school but one day, but he learned how to read, and you couldn't beat him figuring to save your life. I mean, he could—cotton, you know, was thirteen, fourteen cents a pound, whilst we been talking he could have told you what it bring.

[missing figure]CKFqcLVYp0M
QUESTION 17
INTERVIEWER:

You remember the strike?

JOHN HANDCOX:

Huh?

INTERVIEWER:

Do you remember the strike?

JOHN HANDCOX:

I was in the strike.

INTERVIEWER:

Why don't you tell me about the strike.

JOHN HANDCOX:

Well—

INTERVIEWER:

Wait a minute, not yet.

[camera and audio sync]
CAMERA CREW MEMBER

Mark it.

INTERVIEWER:

You can begin telling me about the strike.

JOHN HANDCOX:

Oh, when we had the strike, we went into people on these farms and things, and tried to tell them that they wasn't getting their share of what they had produced. That was the main thing. Some of them, most of them was older than I, I was quite young, and they had children old as I was, but we would tell them about, what they was doing, was, they was, I mean, what they was getting out of life, they was working hard and getting nothing.

INTERVIEWER:

How much were they getting?

JOHN HANDCOX:

Well, just whatever the, the people that they working for, mostly is what they let them have. It wasn't a whole lot, they just had something that was the... they didn't have a whole lot of clothes, or, because I've seen men who were so raggedy they had to walk sideways when they passed people, they'd be so naked. It was awful. And a whole lots of people didn't eat too well, either.

INTERVIEWER:

How did, how did you, did people, like men, maintain their dignity and still be proud men, under those conditions?

JOHN HANDCOX:

Well, you know, some of us, some of us, even 'til this day, somebody do our thinking, we don't think ourselves. So, that's the way, I guess the world be, some going to do good, some going to do bad. That's the way, I guess it's the way to be.

[missing figure]CKFqcLVYp0M
QUESTION 18
INTERVIEWER:

Now, let me ask you one last question.

JOHN HANDCOX:

OK.

INTERVIEWER:

What did you all think of, of Roosevelt, and the federal government? Did you think he was for you?

JOHN HANDCOX:

Well, that's too, about too deep a question. I don't, I, and Roosevelt [sic] been gone... I don't even, can't even think what he was standing for. What he was against...

INTERVIEWER:

Did you think he was in support of the sharecroppers and the Union?

JOHN HANDCOX:

As far as I know, I'm, I don't think he was supporting them, I don't think, now. I can't remember nothing that he would, did on his administration, I don't know. See, that's been a long time ago.

INTERVIEWER:

What about Eleanor, did you think she was—?

JOHN HANDCOX:

Well, I think I heard her speaking against some of the things, the ways they were treating Negroes. I think I heard that, on television, radio, or something. It's be—that's been a long time, you know, and I can't remember.

[camera cuts, audio continues]
JOHN HANDCOX:

—back so, to, on a whole lots [sic] of subjects.

INTERVIEWER:

That's it.

[audio cuts]
[end of interview]