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Oral history from the Jackson Civil Rights Sites Project: Hillman Frazier

Margaret Walker Alexander Research Center,
Jackson State University, Jackson, Mississippi

Interviewee: Hillman Frazier
Interviewer: Charlene Thompson
August 5, 1998


F: How are you?

T: I'm doing fine. My name is Charlene. Of course you know that we are
here to talk about the Civil Rights Movement as it pertains to Jackson,
Mississippi. What we are wanting to do is to get a brief background on
you and your involvement in the Civil Rights Movement and then we will
move into a question and answer session, so to speak, that will give us
more insight into the Movement as you experienced. Give us some
information if you will.

F: I grew up as a child during the height of the Civil Rights Movement
in Mississippi. When I grew up in Jackson, it was a segregated Jackson,
Mississippi. In my neighborhood, we had two elementary schools. We had
one elementary school for Blacks and four elementary schools for
Whites. I lived close to Isabelle Elementary School. But because of
the Jim Crow Laws of the time,

I was forced to go to Martin Elementary School, a lot farther distance
away from my home. During that time our parents were very actively
involved in the Civil Rights Movement, attending rallies at the Masonic
Temple auditorium, marching and protesting against injustices. So that
was going on at that time. And also you had Freedom Riders coming into
the city of Jackson setting up Freedom Schools, trying to instruct
individuals how to participate nonviolently in the struggle. I remember
attending some of the Freedom School sessions that were held in Jackson,
telling them how to march peacefully, how to resist, telling them how to
turn the other cheek when you are attacked by the law enforcement
officials. I remember those days vividly. I also remember some of our
segregated institutions. You had segregated libraries back then. The
library on State Street was a battleground in the Civil Rights Movement
because they didn't want us to ever think that it could be used by all
people. So they had a sit-in by students at Tougaloo and others trying
to change that policy. But because of the time, many of us were forced
to use the College Park Auditorium Library on Lynch Street and also the
Carver Library on Mill Street. I spent a lot of my time in those
libraries because I was denied access to the main library on Capitol
Street. Those are the some of the things that were going on. And also
during the height of the Civil Rights Movement you had a lot of protests
in the city of Jackson. Allen C. Thompson was the mayor of Jackson at
the time. He was known for the famous Thompson Tank. He used that to
arrest the marchers at the time. And also he used the police force and
the fire department to spray the marchers at the time. Many individuals
were in fact arrested and sent down to the Fairgrounds because the jails
were crowded at that time during the height of the Movement. But that
was something done earlier. But during that time we still had to
maintain our separate schools because the system was not quite open
although the Supreme Court outlawed segregated schools at the time. But
these were some of the things that were going on at the time. You had
Martin Luther King come to Jackson participating in the rallies, you had
Medgar Evers on the forefront leading the charge and they put a lot of
excitement on the part of the residents because it meant that it was
steps towards eradicating at least some of the segregation in the city
of Jackson and eventually did improve the city of Jackson at that time.

T: I remember you saying that you had attended some of the Freedom
Schools. Exactly where were some of those schools located here?

F: Most of them were held in churches around the area. I mentioned that
I grew up in South Jackson, in Doutiville. Doutiville was known to be
one of the roughest parts of south Jackson. But they had Freedom
Schools in the church in Doutiville earlier and they had different
people coming in, instructing those who participated in the Movement how
to participate in a non-violent manner, explaining to them their rights,
and what to do in case they were arrested, who to call, things like
that, and that's what was going on in the Freedom Schools here in the
city of Jackson and also the state of Mississippi.

T: How old were you at the time?

F: I was around at the time. I was about 12 years old.
T: So at the age of 12 you actually took up the cause? It was a fight
for the cause of Black people. Did you see it at the time as being
something that was extremely important?

F: Well I just followed the lead of my parents because my parents were
very active in the struggle at the time. They wanted to make sure that
we were aware of what was going on in the city of Jackson at that time.
They made sure that we knew and they participated in marches in the
streets of Jackson. They also attended the mass rallies throughout the
city of Jackson and I also attended some of the mass rallies with them.
And so you become very sensitive to what's going on, and the social
changes that were taking place in the city of Jackson.

T: What were some of the marches that you participated in?

F: Like I said most adults participated in the marches at the time.
Marches that were around Capitol Street were about changes at the time.

T: You said the College Park Auditorium, that's where basically you all
had to, I guess, go to the library? That's where Blacks had to go to
the library?

F: We had two libraries running, College Park Auditorium on Lynch Street
and also the Carver Library on Mill Street. And those were the two
libraries set aside for the Blacks in the city of Jackson. They were
limited in their staff, in their resources, at that time. The law was
separate but equal. I know those were not equal facilities. Those
libraries were separate but they were not in fact equal. Although at
the College Park Auditorium Library at the time but had limited
resources.

T: Can you tell me a bit about any particular incident that you remember
very vividly during the Movement, something that basically stuck with
you, something that maybe inspired you?

F: One of the things that was quite shocking during the Movement was
when they killed Dr. Martin Luther King. I was a student in school at
the time and we received the news. And we were angry at the time. So
we marched out. He was out in Memphis trying to uplift the rights of
sanitation workers. We could identify with that because that's some of
the things happening in the city of Jackson. Our sanitation workers
were underpaid. They were driven around by White drivers who actually
watched them do the work but were higher paid; so when Martin Luther
King was assassinated with strikers at the time. And also during my
college days at Jackson State University, I remember when students were
slain on campus. I was a student at the time and when the police
department came out on campus. That was actually during the height of
the Vietnam War. The officials came on campus and they did shoot up and
kill a couple of students. It was an eye-opening experience to many
students.

T: Did you witness any of that particular incident?

F: I was there that night because it so happened I got some of my
friends to leave and get a bite to eat. I left campus that night. As
we were trying to come back to the campus we were stopped by the police
department. They told us that they'd gotten word of trouble on campus
because they had called every ambulance in town to come on campus that
night. They told us to go on at our own risk. So we refused to go back
on campus that night. As we were driving along we saw the National
Guard officials marching toward Alexander Hall dormitory at that time.
We were trying to get back to the dormitory and take other students. So
when the shots started ringing out we had to leave for fear of our own
safety. So we left and I went to my parent's house.

T: So were there at any given time during the--I know you said that your
parents were the ones that were really more active than yourself--that
you were involved with the Movement, but were there any given times you
participated in the marches or what have you, that you may have been
beaten or something like that.

F: Parents were very protective of kids at the time. They wanted those
under a certain age to steer away from the violence. They didn't want
us to be arrested. They wanted us to sit home and make sandwiches and
things, or Kool-Aid and stuff, for those who were actively involved,
actually marching at the time. But they wanted to make sure that the
kids did not become injured so the adults in the family were on the
forefront in terms of marching in the streets, being beaten or being
sprayed by the police department, fighting off dogs. But the kids were
there. They were backup.

T: Even with the adults, were there a lot of other people in the
Movement during that time? Were any of your other neighbors out there?

F: The neighbors did participate because it was a Movement and people
were drawn into the Movement because it was going on and also because of
the personalities that were involved like Medgar Evers, Dr. Martin
Luther King, seeing what's happening in other parts of the country,
other parts of the South. And so Jackson was rallying to the cause.
And also, as a matter of fact, a lot of this was played out on national
television. National networks did film what was happening here. Some
of the national magazines did take many photographs of what was
happening in the South as a potential battleground was developing, and
that did inspire and include many people from Mississippi during the
Movement at the time. We also had a bus boycott in the city of Jackson
because of segregation. During the bus boycott, we didn't ride the bus,
and we did quite a bit of walking at the time because we were trying to
desegregate the bus system and also get freedom of seating on the bus.
We had to sit behind the white line before the boycott. But those were
things approved by the city of Jackson.

T: Do you remember Medgar Evers' funeral?

F: It was a very sad time in the city of Jackson. It was just a somber
time in the city of Jackson when we had a lost a very good leader at the
time. Many were very concerned about the future of the struggle,
wondering who were the leaders, who could take us to the next level.

T: At what point did you get involved in the NAACP?

F: Well as far as I can remember, because our parents were big believers
in the NAACP and made sure that we participated in the activities. So I
started back at that time. We talked about church and also talked about
the NAACP.

T: Did you ever enroll and become an NAACP member again?

F: Yes.

T: Is there anything else you would like to say, anything else that you
can recall, any particular significant place or event at this time?

F: Well in Jackson the Masonic Temple is a very significant place for
Black students because it was the place where Blacks got together and
talked about the Civil Rights Movement. There were great teachers like
Martin Luther King and Medgar Evers and others that talked about the
next level of participation in the struggle. And that was a place where
Blacks really looked forward to going to during the struggle. And also
the different churches--different churches had mass meetings throughout
the city of Jackson. And we did go to the different churches for
rallies. We had rallies at my home church, Galilee Baptist Church, at
the time. We had rallies throughout the city of Jackson. That was
very, very, very important. And also the main library downtown was a
battle ground because students were arrested for trying to desegregate
that library, Tougaloo students, because they wanted to make sure that
all of us had access to the library which is very significant when
you're talking about the struggle in the city of Jackson. We were
concerned about services in downtown Jackson as well.

T: You mentioned one of the Freedom Schools. Do you remember any one
associated with the school?

F: Yes. Yes, Dr. Stewart.

T: Do you think that the struggle has changed much in Jackson and
America or do you feel that the struggle is still going on?

F: It's still going on because we continue the struggle from fighting
for political power to economic power, and so the emphasis has changed
somewhat in the city of Jackson. We do have Black elected officials in
the city of Jackson, a majority Black city council, majority Black board
of supervisors. We have Black leaders in our Mississippi delegation
that serve in the legislature. So in terms of political power we have
obtained some degree of success in terms of political power. We have
had some success in terms of economic successes, but that is still going
on because we still have many battles to fight in terms of everyone
having access to economic benefits or service; that is still going on.
Some point to the fact that we have Black ownership of the number-1
television station in the city of Jackson. A lot of the Black
businesses don't have access to capital nor the necessary resources.
They don't have access to some of the contracts that are done on the
state level, or their participation has been very limited in terms of
their numbers. So the struggle is to increase the participation on the
part of Blacks in a given length of time in the city of Jackson. In the
state of Mississippi that struggle is ongoing and we won't be satisfied
until we see fairness in that. I know we have fairness in terms of
economic opportunity in the city of Jackson. In the struggle we fought
to live in good neighborhoods. We fought to have integrated schools.
But you need good-paying jobs or you need your home-grown businesses.
We're fighting for both of them right now.

T: What do you regret about the struggle?

F: One of the saddest parts of the struggle was the lack of
participation as far as White businesses. They were in fact a major
concern of the movement but they didn't participate in the struggle.
They didn't appreciate the injustices that were taking place in the city
of Jackson. Some of the ministers were afraid to speak out and take a
stand. I think few of the White churches and only about half of the
Black churches showed any concern for the struggle. This is one of the
reasons the movement took so long to show any real progress.

T: Do you think that a lot of the people were basically unconcerned and
they felt that the struggle was not their problem? They felt that it
was not for them so they had nothing to do with it?

F: They practiced something. They didn't necessarily practice
Christianity. A lot of them worked very hard to maintain the status
quo. They were very comfortable with their lives. A lot of them
benefited from the prayer system that we had in the city of Jackson
because their members were in a position of having good-paying jobs,
their members were sitting in the political positions making these
decisions and so there were benefits. And so anytime they attempted to
speak out they had to think about the repercussions they would receive
from their own leadership. So they didn't have the freedom that some
thought they had nor did they have the courage to struggle. There were
others who turned their heads to what was going on in Jackson.

T: Was there at any time during the struggle that your
participation--did you ever feel like you wouldn't have wanted to, you
wished you hadn't participated, or you wished you had had more
involvement?

F: I wanted to be more involved. I realized that we were in fact
conservative about many things occurring in the city. We were
participating in economic development in the city but we had no benefits
in what we were doing. I wanted to say more about the parents were very
protective of the kids for the most part and they did give them
different roles to play. And they wanted to be in the forefront in
terms of not letting violence take place in the city of Jackson, but the
thing about it they did instill in us the fight--the courage to go
forward and fight. They wanted to make sure that we could pass without
something happening to them or even give us the ability to go forward at
that time.

T: You'd pick up the fight from them?

F: Right. They were very productive.

T: Now, going back, you said in the Freedom Schools that you all
attended and you said they taught you things like I guess how to be
non-violent and were there other things? How long were the sessions or
meetings at the Freedom Schools?

F: Well they had Freedom Schools, especially during the specific summer
of '64, '65, '63. They came to the state for the purpose of sharing
ideas about rights and the availability of resources, while letting us
know that they could assist us in our struggle. They came, explained
different rights and remedies during the sessions. We also talked about
different customs, different practices that were taking place in the
South and how to confront them head on. We're also proud of the fact
that things began happening in the city of Jackson and that we could
assist and become something more than victims in the city of Jackson.
We talked about those things in the Freedom Schools. It happened during
the summer in the South because a lot of white students came down to
help to bring about change.

T: Anything else you want to add?

F: No.

T: Mr. Frazier I'd like to thank you for this interview. If there is
anything else that you can think of please let us know. I really do
appreciate it and I really do thank you for the interview.

F: Thank you.

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