McCain, Billy Tape 1 of 2 9/19/99
By Worth Long
This is an interview for the Mississippi Oral History Program. It is being recorded with Mr. Billy McCain in his residence on September 19, 1999. The interviewer is Mr. Worth Long.
WL: Can you tell me your name, and when and where you were born please?
BM: My name is Billy Joe McCain Sr. I was born in Memphis, TN in 1936. I lived there for about four years when my parents divorced. My mother and father’s homes were in Mississippi. My mother returned home to live with her parents in Grenada, MS. I have a sister that is two years older than I am. My mother moved back with her parents. Her parents matter of fact raised all of us. It was kind of thing. It was that kind of thing in the early years. I came from what you might say a single parent family. The father was absent during my childhood. Matter of fact during my life he was gone. I knew him, but we didn’t have closeness or the support. It was the grandparents that raised us. I am very grateful to them for their love and commitment to us. My mother was educated. She did complete high school. At that time, you could teach school as a high school graduate. My mother for a while was a schoolteacher. Then when the educational requirements became greater or increased that disqualified her. My mother did domestic work. She worked as a maid. My grandfather worked for the Railroad Company in the freight yard.
WL: When were they born, your grandparents?
BM: My grandparents were born. I don’t know the year, but they were born naturally in the 1800’s. They were born south of Grenada in a little town they call Elliot, MS. My grandfather was the son of a former slave. There was a large family there. They owned a lot of property in Elliot, MS where camp McCain and I exist, but there is no relationship of my name, McCain, to that of Camp McCain. My grandparents were Hardymans. They were born and raised south of Grenada. At the time of freedom of slavery, my grandfather’s father and his brothers were giving a lot of land there. So they had a lot of land there. They farmed that land. They did quite well. The land was very attractive to others. It was not long after that, that the property became indebted because of taxes other things that they said doing that time. It was taking away from them.
WL: That was from the County Courthouse?
BM: Yes, right.
WL: Was that a general practice?
BM: That seemed like that was a general practice during those years because there were a lot of blacks that owned land. That had been handed to them from there former slave bosses. That was what they called the forty acres and a mule. This was much more than forty acres and much more than a mule. They were not able to hold that land. They did for a few years. I have been told. They had to give it up. Matter of fact there were raids on the property. One of my grandfather’s brothers was killed from one of the raids on the property. They had to run them off.
WL: When you say a raid, I don’t quite understand?
BM: Well, a raid is like I guess there were others that had an interest in the property for whatever reason. It was the way that blacks was treated. They would come through and burn and shoot, trying to run you off.
WL: Was it organizational?
BM: Well, I don’t know whether it was organizational or not. It appears to me that the characteristics would put it in that manner. Anyway, we tried several years after that, my grandfather’s effort all of his life was to try to regain ownership of that property. We were never able to get it back.
WL: As you extend through your history, what was it like going to school during the period?
BM: I went to segregated school naturally. We lived what we call in Grenada across town by the railroad station across the tracks. That is where we lived. The schools that my sister and I attended were almost on the other side of town. It was about two miles. We had to walk to school from where we lived. About mid-way there, the down town area there were schools there, but that were schools that we could not attend. The schools that we had to attend segregated schools were a mile further.
WL: So you had to walk past the other schools?
BM: Oh yeah, we had to walk past several schools everyday to get to the school that we had to attend.
WL: Now I am wondering why you didn’t take the school buses?
BM: They didn’t have school buses. They had no school bus then.
WL: The schools you walked past did they?
BM: Oh yeah there was busses there.
WL: There were busses at what place?
BM: There were busses at the schools that we had to walk past, but there were no busses that ran from where we lived to where we attended.
WL: In terms of ethnic characterization, what you had a black school and a white school.
BM: Oh yeah we had black schools, and you had white schools.
WL: I see.
BM: The schools were named. You see the school that I attended was Grenada Colored School. It was the School for Colored. The name of the school that I attended was Grenada Colored School. It remained that up until after the fifties there. The schools that I attended was Grenada Colored School, Grenada Colored High School. I graduated in 1954, and I graduated from Grenada Colored High School. They built a new a school, when they came up with the separate but equal law. They built a new school. That school was named after one of the school’s principles that we had, Ms. Kara Dotson. She was on that school faculty at the time that I begin school. I remember her so very well. I knew her all of my life. Afterwards, when they built the new school, they named that school after her. It was Kara Dotson High School.
WL: In terms of educational aspirations, what as a young person what did you think about based on what you have experienced?
BM: Actually, I can’t speak for all of the class, all of my classmates. There were some differences in background, economics. As I mentioned, my grandparents and mother raised me. We were a poor family. We didn’t have an automobile. We didn’t have telephones. We were poor, but matter of fact I didn’t realize that we were that poor. There was love in the family. There was never a lack of love in the family. As a result of having so much love, there was always food to eat. In terms of some of the other necessities, you might say. We didn’t have all of that.
WL: Let me put it this way. What did you want to be when you were going to school?
BM: Well, I really didn’t know. I didn’t have a lot of aspiration. I did not. I had real good teachers. I recall those teachers. They really took an interest in me. I really had no aspirations because I had no exposure. The only thing that we could see for blacks that to be a preacher or a teacher. I had really no aspirations for any of that. Matter of fact, I joined the army when I was sixteen. In school, as I grew older, I was always a person that had a lot of respect for adults, my teachers. I was also a person that was trying to make it. I had jobs. I can’t remember a time that I didn’t have a job. Even when we lived across the track, there were always the W. W. II, Camp McCain was there. There was a troop train that came through. Those guys couldn’t get off the train, but there was stores right up the street. So I ran errands, and I shined shoes. That is how I made my little pocket change or what have you. Sometimes people would say, well you when you grow older, you never picked any cotton. No I never pick any cotton because there was not any to pick. I always had little jobs to do. I guess I matured a lot faster than some of the other children may have. The Boy Scouts I was just overwhelmed with that experience. That is a glad opportunity. That is one of the few things that a black child and we had. We could participate in. There was one guy that still exists, and he is very dear to me. His name is Nathaniel Bo Claire. Nathaniel Bo Claire came to Grenada when I was in the eighth grade. It was at that time we had this male figure, a role model. We could identify with him. He and some of the other guys there took an interest in the young boys. He was a boys scout troops troopmaster. Then we got into high school, and we had high school football coach. I loved scouting, and I loved playing football. After that there wasn’t too much really.
WL: What position did you play?
BM: I played line backer. So that was basically all that I wanted to do. I call myself with the strength and with the vigor. I just wanted to hit somebody. I just wanted to drive them to the ground. I thought that is what you had to do in order to make it. You got to be just a strong person. I didn’t realize in the man and education that you really needed. Mine came mostly from the physical aspect. In order to amount to anything in this world, you got to be strong. I developed the strength physically. I was a little short when it came to strength mentally. So I didn’t have all those aspirations. Like I said, I joined the army when I was sixteen. I never got on active duty because my mother found out about it just before we were ready to ship out. We had all that annulled because of age. It was a bunch of us guys that did that. Then after completion of high school, I had scholarships to play football in college. Then again, I didn’t have that motivation. My self-esteem wasn’t at that level, and being from a poor family, even with scholarships, there were other needs. I did have a sister in college at the time. I knew that my parents were put to doing everything that they could for my sister. She was in school. She had two years that I had graduated from high school. I did go in to service. I volunteered again. I went into the Air Force. My mother being a single person, I was able to make out a Class Q Allotment to her. That helped with some of the family needs. When I was discharge from service. I did a tour in the state of Washington. I also did a tour in Korea. When I returned home, I was discharged. My mother and my sister just insisted that I go to college. I really didn’t think too much of it then.
WL: What were you trained in, in the service?
BM: M. O. S., I was in Tech Supply. I was in Technical Supply. It was at this time that I came to realize that I could achieve. I did fairly well according to those standings. I was selected as Base Airman of the Month. I made rank pretty well. So blacks at that time, at the first tour of duty of service there, I excelled to the rank of Sergeant. I saw that I could achieve. Then I was exposed to a lot of other things then. I really wanted to make a career in service.
WL: Cat along here you induction into the basic training. Go through the time you became a Sergeant up until you were discharged.
BM: Well, my basic training went into Lakeland Airforce Base in Sanatonio, Texas. From there I went to the state of Washington to Paine Airforce Base in Everett, Washington. I was assigned to the Tech Supply Division there. I was that after the Airman Basic and after the training of what have you, I became an Airman of third class. Then my next promotion was that to of.
WL: Staff Sergeant
BM: No, it went from Basic to Airman First Class. Then it went to Second Class. Then after that I went to what you call Bug Sergeant. Then in 1955, I was then shipped out to Korea. The war was just over with at the time that I got there. So we were basically the peace keeping and the clean up.
WL: How did you get there transportation wise?
BM: Oh my goodness, I will never shall forget that. Matter of fact I started to enlist again right there in Korea. I went over there. I was shipped out from San Francisco Bay Harbor. I was on a ship that was the U. S. S. General Patrick. That voyage was thirty days long. It was thirty days from San Francisco Bay to Inchan Harbor, Korea. I think that was the most miserable thirty days that I ever spent in my life. I don’t care too much now about boat cruises. They got these Luxury Liners. I don’t care anything about them.
WL: Who took your baggage up to the game plank?
BM: Oh I did. I took my duffel bag. Everything I had was wrapped around on me and on my shoulder. It wasn’t so bad going up it from Frisco Bay. When we got to Inchan Harbor, there was no dock. So we evacuated the ships two or three hundred yards out. We got on what we call the amphibious boats there. They rolled out there and picked us up. Matter of fact this was in the month of January. It was cold. We finally got settle down. That was an experience. When I separated from service, I came back by air. It was a lot better.
WL: So you were decorated with the United Nations Service Metal?
BM: Oh yes.
WL: Tell me what you received?
BM: Well, the one I am most proud of was I had a good conduct medal. Then I had the Medal of Foreign Service. I came back to California. I came back to Oakland. That is where I was discharged. Then I came home to stay awhile. Then I was going to re-enlist. My mother and my sister felt so strongly about me going to school. I decided that just to satisfy them I would go to school. My sister had applications sent to Tennessee University. She had it approved. I talked with the coach over at Valley. He was still interested with me playing ball. So I went to school over at Mississippi Valley State University on a football scholarship. Of course my tenure didn’t last long there. I was nearly injured the first year. I got my leg broke right in the knee. It left me with a slight limp. Therefore, I was never able to return there to play football. So I stayed there. Then I met a young lady there. Her name was Sylvia Spearman, who was Miss Valley State University. She took interest in me. We started a courtship.
WL: This was before or after the broken leg?
BM: This was before the broken leg. We decided that we were meant for each other. It was during that time that Sam Cook was real popular with all his songs. Jerry Buckler was one of those guys.
WL: What were some of the songs that Sam would sing?
BM: Well you know. Jerry Buckler had “Your Precious Love”. Sam Cook was “You Were Meant For Me.” There were a number of these good songs. You didn’t have to say too much. You had songs at that time to express your feelings. I got all excited and everything.
WL: So you are saying that those songs were appropriate for your relationship?
WL: Your Precious Love, You Were Meant for Me.
BM: Oh absolutely, you know we still hum them around the house even now after forty-three years.
WL: In terms of letter organizations, what organizations were you and your wife in college?
BM: Well we didn’t have Greek organizations at the time that we were at school, Mississippi Valley. I did join the graduate Chapter of Omega Si Phi. I am still current with the Omega Si Phi.
WL: Now lets look at how you got to Delta State at a later time.
BM: Well the journey at South for educational wise, after I got injured playing football. I went straight on through school. My first job out of school was at Shaw. That was in Bolivar County. It was Mac Evan’s School. I had made applications to a number of places with teaching positions and principles or what have you. My wife was working in S haw. She had a job working at Shaw there. I talked with the school principle there who was Fred Altimer. He was interested in me coming and working with him. I did. I appreciated it. I did the best job that I could do. I was very proud and fond of being a part of that faculty. Particularly working with the children in the Mississippi Delta was good for me. In that classroom, those kids, matter of fact, I have some working in the office with me now that I taught. Matter of fact, they are all over the county. Those were kids that I taught when I was teaching school in Shaw. That is where I really got my education. I could identify with those kids. I knew what were their needs were. I knew all their trials and tribulations that they were having to deal with. I identify with them on a very positive way. There were two things right now that I never regret having done. That was the experience that I had in the military and the experience that I had teaching school for those six years that I taught. Those are some of the experiences that I had that contributed largely to my existence even today.
WL: What did you learn from each?
BM: Well in military, I learned a little bit of discipline for one thing. I did learn that I could achieve. I was already a team player because I had an experience in high school. I played football. I had all my little friends. We didn’t call them gangs then, but they were friends. We were closely knitted. I learned a lot from that experience. In the military, I learned that I got exposed to other things in the world that I had not been. I had a lot of experiences. I learned that I could achieve. I learned that I could be somebody. I knew that there was another life out here beyond that of Grenada. There were other things that you could do. Teaching school, I learned there that those kids not only get from the textbook, but they needed an education in life itself. I was still learning myself. I could really identify with them. I had an appreciation for those children. I think they had an appreciation for me. We were just a good experience. I could watch them grow. I could watch kids attitudes change from what they were. To give them a more positive outlook on life, where they too can be more successful. That is the direction that we moved in. I mean to tell you I have lots of kids now. I could bring to you that would say I am real proud of you. Oh yeah absolutely. You see in that situation, this was in segregation too. These were segregated schools. This was in the early sixties. This is when we had motor rights acts and what have you that were being passed. Still black people were being denied the privilege to vote. We still had segregated facilities every where. We had to deal all those barriers. We had a superintendent at that school down there, named Ario Thorn. He was by far the most raciest person that I had ever came in contact with.
WL: What do you mean?
BM: He was the most raciest person, and I say that publicly. I would say that to him. He was the most raciest person that I had ever seen.
WL: Give me an example.
BM: Number one, he had no respect for the school principles or faculty. He would come in, and he would just talk down to you. He would call meetings when we were protest. He would let you know in no certain terms that he did not support any of that all. He didn’t even support you voting. (Tape cut off.) We only did what ever I was going to do when I got out of school. I traveled from Shaw to my hometown; Grenada, almost every evening, and I did the same almost every weekend. I had the opportunity to work with him in a different kind of way. I think he was in custom to working with blacks. I let him know up front even though I knew we were in a segregated system. I let him know up front that I was my own man, and nobody else was going to take that away from me. Now what he would do also was when we had title one programs. Title one programs were programs that the legislated by Congress and funded in order to put money into school systems to improve those systems for underprivileged children. You know that bastard down at the Shaw school district denied it. I mean he would not accept any title one money. He denied these kids of equipment and services that they were entitled to. He as a superintendent made that decision. You don’t have to go by what the school board wants. He as a superintendent denied these kids from those benefits. I told him about it. Oh absolutely, he told me that we didn’t want any federal money. I said that was for the children. You are depriving them of that.
WL: This was your superintendent?
BM: Oh yes,
WL: Did he himself go to white school or black schools?
BM: He was a White from Attala. Now you should understand. If I am not mistaken he came over from Alabama. He said many times he was not a Mississippian. He would accustom to the ways of Mississippi. He had very little respect for the school principle, Altimer that was there. Matter of fact, he would talk to me on a number of occasions about taking the job as principle. I would always tell him that we had a principle. That is who I work for. I let him know who my immediate supervisor was. I did a lot of reports for the school. I would work with the school principle and assisting him in doing things. The superintendent would have me come over to his office. He would say to me that we got to get this bus report. We have to do these attendance reports. He said they are due in by the fifth of next month. If you want to have some fun, you go back and you tell Altimer I want this on my desk by Monday morning. I told him, I said that with all do respect. His name was Ario Thorn. I said with all do respect to you Mr. Thorn, Mr. Altimer is my supervisor. I work for him. I don’t play with him. From then on he left me alone with stuff like that. I stayed there for six years. Then the Community Acts Agency was organized in 1965. The legislature.
WL: Under what jurisdiction?
BM: It was President Lyden B. Johnson. This was an equal opportunity act of 1964. In which they declared the war on poverty.
WL: This was part of his great.
BM: Yeah, this was part of his Great Society Program. This was an effort to alleviate in poverty conditions in America. Well while working in the Shaw School system, I had the opportunity to apply for admission into Jackson State University’s graduate school for disadvantage youth. This was a program that was funded by the department of education. Doctor Jane McAlester was the director of that program. I was in this program that I really, really learned a lot about disadvantaged youth. Those people that were culturally deprived. To relate in that myself and my childhood days growing up and even as of then and even as of now, there was a lot of disadvantaged people. There was a lot of information there. It stimulated my interest and really I tried to do all that I could possibly could to alleviate to bring about a change in the disadvantages that we had been subjected to all of these years. I looked at programs, and to see how we could fit into these programs that would provide some services to children and families that would enhance their lively hood because of all the cultural and segregated deviations that they had suffered. This was prior to the E. O. A. act of 1964. If I am not mistaken, it may have been about 1963 or somewhere in that area. The Community Action Agency, the community action program concept was introduced to Bolivar County in 1965. There were community meetings that were held all over the county. I took an interest in those community meetings looking to see what kinds of programs and what did the community action agency, or community action program have to offer to the children and to the families that would help them. Not knowing a lot about it, this is what I could pick up on it. I wrote a proposal while in the Shaw School district there. I call community meetings, and I gathered all the information. I was doing things as looking at the needs of children in terms of those children that needed shoes in order to continue in school. They might have needed clothing. Those children needed transportation. Just what ever the family needs were, I thought through the community action agency that those things could be made available. So I got about the business of writing a proposal. I wrote a great big proposal. It provided hope. It gave me some aspirations to say here we have the opportunity to do something for these children, and particularly in light of the system itself we were in, being a segregated system, and being denied of other benefits that other children all around us were enjoying. This was a great opportunity, and of course my proposal was not funded. It was well received. My proposal was not in accordance with the mission. Well it was in accordance with the mission, but it was not in accordance with the service delivery or the community action agency but certainly of a product of it. There were other things that you had to do in order to bring this about through organization and through collaboration. I had to pondering with other state agencies fairly locally. You could acquire some of these needs. You could get some of those things to meet those needs. I did all of this, and I became familiar with it. I would do the community meetings and organizing the Community Action Agency. My territory was that of the Shaw community where we organized. The Community Action Agency board of directors had been appointed and what have you. They were about the business going out to all of the towns and explaining the program to them. This would gain support. Finally we were able to pull all of that together from that particular effort from the Community Action Agency and its incorporation and chartered in 1965. Then this made the agency eligible to apply for the first summer head start program. Of course it was in 1966 that the Community Action Agency in Bolivar County was funded for the Summer Head Start Program. I was still in the Shaw School district. I served as the Center Director for the Shaw Head Start Center. A. C. Isaac, who was principle of the Nella Elementary School here in Cleveland, served as the Head Start Project Director. He was the first Head Start Project Director. At the end of the summer program, A. C. Isaac decided that he would remain in the Cleveland School District as the principle of the school that he worked in. Therefore, he recommended me to become the project director for the Bolivar County Community Action Agency Program. Of course from that recommendation, then the Community Action Agency board of directors did appoint me to this position in the summer of 1966. Our challenges were very great because of the fact that during all of the summer months we had access to all the school buildings in all of the county as well as transportation, but when the public school reopened those school buildings were no longer available to us nether the transportation. Also staff, the summer program, a lot of the staff particularly a lot of the teachers came from the public schools. All of those people went back to their original jobs. So we were left with the challenge of continuing to operate.
WL: Now give me an assessment of the success of that program.
BM: Oh very successful, the First Summer Program was very successful. It was very successful in that it did things for children that you wouldn’t ever believed. It offered employment opportunities to people who would have never had the chance to work. It was parents, the people who were unskilled. We had all kinds of training programs, and I am going to go into all of that. That was a part of the agenda of looking at what our needs were to continue Head Start and to provide quality services to Head Start children. We had barriers to overcome such as that of adequate facilities. We needed competent classroom staff transportation even the barrier of the State of Mississippi, was the governor if I am not mistaken. I know John Bell Williams came in later. I forget the name of the governor prior to him. They actually vetoed Head Start Programs from coming into the state of Mississippi.
WL: That was before or after Governor Johnson?
BM: I am trying to recall. It may have been during the Johnson administration. I don’t recall specifically whom the governor was at that time with out going back and researching it. I don’t recall, but I do know that programs were vetoed in 1966 and 1967. The federal government had to override those vetoes in order for Head Start to be funded. So there were periods of time, that we operated with out any funds at all. There were periods of time that we operated with no funds. Staff was not paid. The community as well as staff would make donations of food, transportation or what have you in order to keep the children in the centers. We had to use. We are real grateful and thankful to everybody who made what ever they had available to us. That included churches and even barns. We had to operate in because of not having the adequate facilities. Then of course when we continued to operate, we put forth the effort by reducing our operations in some costs and some area there to free up money that we could put into facilities. We did all of that. We contracted our transportation out to local people who were able to participate in the program then by providing transportation and being paid for it. Head Start offered a lot opportunities. It brought about a tremendous economic and social change not only for the benefit of the children in Head Start in terms of their child development. Well in terms of family and community developments, I mean it brought about a tremendous change. I often people that I say this. I say this with out reservation, and I say this with out hesitation. That when we look back from where we started from, let’s not forget. Let’s forget the foundation because where did we come from. We came from the kitchens and the cotton fields. You came from a society that you were denied participation in and economic, social, and political process. Head Start liberated you. It gave you independence from oppression and deprivation. It gave you that independence that you need. Now you have the right to vote. Now you can go vote with out your job being threatened. That is any number of advantages that you do have. Let’s not forget the problem that we had to was that in terms of the staff itself. I do recall this governor, John Bell Williams that threatened to and vetoed Head Start programs because he had the state to legislate a requirement that all Head Start teachers have at least two years of college. Eighty or seventy percent of our teachers had not advanced to that level, but they had a love and a desire. Through Head Start, one component of Head Start, was that of Career development and training. Our mission was to employ parents primarily and other people in entry level positions. I wanted to train them, and let them credentialize that would make them employable in other institutions. Now we have done an excellent job with that. We have parents now who came into Head Start with less than an high school diploma that got their G. E. D. They went on and continued their education and got their B. S. degree. Some have got their master’s degree. They went on into Head Start into public schools, universities, and other places. There are a lot of success stories. It was just the other day, one day last week that it came to my attention, that one of our favorite staff people who worked with us initially, who was employed in the health component. The acquired a L. P. N. I am sure that this person wouldn’t mind me saying this, but this is a person that was a mother before finishing high school. She came into Head Start and provided the opportunity for training. We provided the release stamp of training. This person went on to be a L. P. N. That person to be a registered nurse. This person left Head Start and went back to school. She went on to a P. N. P., a Pediatric Nurse Practitioner. She started her on business. Now she is in seeing Head Start children. I was told just the other day, and I did not know this because this is a very modest person. That this person now has a Ph D in Public Health. Now all of this was due to Head Start. We had a parent, Willie Summons, he tells the story all of the time. Willie Summons, as a parent in our demonstration center had never taken out the time to participate or support programs for children until his child had the opportunity to be enrolled in a Head Start center. He went out to see what it was all about. He fell in love with it like most parents do. He went on to be the State of Mississippi Parent Association President. He went on to become the President of the National Head Start Parent Association. He used his experience and his knowledge he acquired and his appreciation for people that he decided to run for the state senate. He ran for the state Senate, and he was elected over women. So there is a lot of success stories that we can tell from Head Start experiences. As we continued to operate and hear again with career development. This was an opportunity for me as the Head Start program director. This was an opportunity for me to continue my education because I was at the B. S. degree level. Delta State University, right here in our own yard, if you might say was an excellent opportunity for me. That meant that I had to go to no place or do anything. As being a veteran, I still had my G. I. Bill of Rights. I still had education time remaining. So if we are working and trying to improve ourselves and trying to uplift ourselves, certainly I have got to try to exhibit some kind of leadership here. So out of all the mist of all the work or what have you, I enrolled in Delta State University in the graduate school for management and school administration. So I received my master’s degree in school administration. I appreciate the opportunity, and I am really grateful for that. We have other staff here who also took advantage of the opportunities with Career and Development. They continued their training. They are on the degree level. They are satisfied in what they are doing. All of our classrooms are staffed now with teachers. All of our teachers that we have now are at minimal. They are A degree certified, or they are C. D. A. certified. C. D. A. is Child Development Association. That is what you have to enter into formal training in order to acquire that. It is a competent based certification.
WL: The A. A. degree is a community college general associate?
BM: Right, so all of our classroom teacher at a minimum is at that level. Seventy-five percent of our classroom teacher’s assistants are at that level. All our Center Administrators have succeeded that level. So the growth in terms of education has been very rapid. Of course the result of that we all know in the better quality program. There is better quality services for children and family as a result not only experience but training to.
WL: Would you characterize this as supplemental educational experience in the sense that there is. You had worked in Shaw as a teacher under a principle and superintendent. Is it an addition to what the child gets? Or is it preparatory in a real sense? Which part plays the biggest role?
BM: Well it is preparatory. That plays a great role. It is preparing me to become trained in what it is that is expected of the job itself. That is to move forward. Training and experience to advance the program because we have to realize that change itself takes place. Nobody, absolutely anybody expected Head Start to last as long as it has. Nobody expected that. Matter of fact, Head Start is still a demonstration program. It is not yet an entitled a program. It is a demonstration program in which it has to be reauthorized about every three or four years. It continues to be reauthorized. I think America itself realizes the value of it and what investment regards in. It seems to be no problem. We just got real good support. Of course there is always some objection or some. Every politician for the most part, the president they are just elated over what Head Start does. (Tape cut off.) Right now and particularly in the state of Mississippi, our programs have done so well here that it is just unbelievable. It is just beyond the stretch of anybody’s imagination as to what we are able to do. The Head Start’s performance standards even on the federal level, on the federal level, they give directions for Head Start. They set the standards that every program must achieve at a minimal. Those standards are increasing as everybody gains experience. We have been able to meet those challenges, every one. We have been able to succeed those challenges in every instance. Right now we are looking at change itself, and the thrust of education. Particularly with the new studies on Brain research and beginning at an early age, they are even doing prenatal preparation of the child. There is a lot of interest on the part of the institution of higher learning, the state department of education. We are all coming together now, and looking at educational programs for the children beginning at a very early age. We have early head start now, which is zero to three years of age. We are looking at parent involvement, and how a parent would involve parents as being a part of the child’s education. All of these things are coming after Head Start has proven. Head Start has set forth a motto, in which you can bring about these changes by which you can learn and bring parents into their education of their children. Right now we are participating in a study that was initiated by state legislator, Charles Yong, who is chairman of the Education Committee in the State house of representatives with the institution of higher learning. Mississippi State University now has a study that is looking at the development of what we call the singulous curriculum. That is that the services and the education plans or what have you for children at Head Start is to how to continue that. You see what happens is that when a child is in Head Start, when you have all the parent’s support and what have you. When this child goes into the public schools, about the third or fourth grade, that child has lost every thing that they have gained in Head Start. What we say in Head Start is that look we were fine when we gave them to you, now we wonder what happened to them. We are not blaming anybody for it. We are not saying to the public schools that you haven’t done your job. We are not saying that. We are just simply saying that they were fine when they left us. We all have to work together to find out what the problem is to why these children might be regressing after they reach a certain grade level. We are not saying that you have done, but together let’s work and design a curriculum. That will take a child from Head Start to Pre-K, to Kindergarten, elementary school, and on up through high school and college. That is the process that we have now. There are two Head Start programs in the State of Mississippi that is involved with this particular project in this study. That is Mississippi Action for Progress and also Bolivar County Head Start. We look at this at a great opportunity to really improve the education system for the entire state of Mississippi not just in Head Start but the public schools. It is also in the college and the universities.
WL: As you look back on your role from your early experience with in the public schools through your present roles in Head Start and your present role in education and community action, could you just reflect on not just the importance to you, but its impact with in the community?
BM: Well as we have operated the years that we have in Bolivar County it has been very necessary to establish a maintain good relationships with all the entities within the county, which is the political jurisdiction, board of supervisors, all of town mayors, library systems, school systems, universities here, and the chamber of commerce. To establish this relationship with the businesses, which is a private sector, and we want to establish with the newspapers or what have you. So that everyone can understand what the plight is, and what the opportunities are if we all support this particular effort for a better community we will have. So we work toward maintaining this relationship. We have worked towards public relations in terms of newsletters, in terms of news media, in terms of the television stations; they have all been invited. They all participate willingly in our program. My efforts have been too make absolutely sure that our program is as operating in accordance with all the federal regulations and all the state and local regulations. All of the services that we are responsible for providing for children, I do. I am very thankful, and very appreciative to be in a situation where we have this kind of support. I am very fortunate to have grant “T” board of directors who support the program. They are committed to the program. That is the Community Action Agency Board of Directors. We are very fortunate to have the Head Start policy council that represents all of the parents in the whole county who support the program. They operate in accordance with in the regulations of the programs. We recognize what those regulations are. We are very fortunate to have just a wonderful staff. These are the people I work with who are very committed, competent, and reliable. They know what to do. It takes all of this. It takes all of this for teamwork. We are very fortunate to have all of that. That is the thing that keeps us moving forward.
WL: And the community is fortunate to have its leadership, isn’t?
BM: I would hope so. Well I have tried to demonstrate that leadership ability, even though I don’t call that. I call it trying to do a good job. Anyway we got just tremendous community support even on our board of directors. We have a board of supervisors some appointees. We have town mayors serving on our board of directors. We have a relationship with all of the school districts in the county. We have what we call a partnership agreement. We have a partnership agreement with all of the school districts in the county to collaborate and exchange resources. It works fine. You just couldn’t ask for anything better. We have not been, and with Delta State University. The time we need for meeting space or conference or what have you, that university is accessible to us. Matter of fact just the second week in September of this year, our pre-service training program at Delta State University in which all of our staff people were welcomed by the president of the university, Dr. Potter. We are very much a part of the community. We are very much a part of it.
WL: This is the last question, it has to do with your family. Could you name your wife and family? The question has to do with what you would want for your family based on your experiences in life.
BM: Absolutely let me go let me make one other statement if you don’t mind. I worked in this program as Head Start director for about twenty-eight years. The executive director became ill, and he could not work. We continued to operate the agency. We have had that relationship all of these years. Finally with the director passed on, this was about five years ago. The board of directors of the agency offered that job to me as the Community Action Agency’s Executive Director. Now the make up of these programs, you have to understand comes from different funding sources. Like Head Start is funding directly by the federal government. The Community Action Agency comes under the Social Services block grant. They are funding directly by the state, which does not carry the same benefits. I had that longevity with Head State. I had my love for it. I wasn’t ready to turn that a loose, but being in the agency that is operating in one county. The Board of Directors felt and said that well we realize that you have been a major player in the whole agency anyway. So we stradegized and we restructured and reorganized the agency where I accepted the position of Executive Director for the Agency continuing with my Head Start responsible. You might say it’s a dual role, but if you look at it in terms of one position carrying out. They do a role. It could be a dual role, and making it into one role. Now as it relates to family, as I mentioned early, during the courtship and sweetheart days.
WL: The Sam Cook days?
BM: Yeah, the Sam Cook days or the Jerry Buckman or what have you. Our first son was came from those days. Our first son, naturally we had to name him after me. He had to become a junior. I will apologize to him since that time because who wants to go around in this county with a name like Billy Joe McCain Jr. That was my first son. Then afterwards, we had a second son, and his name is Derrick. After that we had a third child, a daughter. Her name is Cheryl. My kids all grew up here in Cleveland. They attended school here in Cleveland. My children were taught to be honest. They were taught to be appreciative of what they have, but at the same time never to shun anyone who may have had less. Every person is a human being. You have to respect people particularly older people. You are here, and you are part of the school. You are part of the community here, and you fit right into that as a child. Because of the fact that you are fortunate enough to have parents who are education and in professional positions, it does not give you advantage over anyone that may have been less fortunate. You see you have got to understand that it has not always been this way for us. I came from a single parent home. My mother worked as a maid. Now if I am going to shun or look back at anybody, who may be my professional at this particular time, that means that I don’t like my mama. So that is not what it is all about. It is about being able to work with people and to recognize people for what they are. They want you to respect them, and respect their rights the same that you expect them to respect yours. You never had a problem with my children growing up here. They were children with in the community. During school desegregation, here in the Cleveland school district, they decided that in order to integrate the schools, they would use a zone. They used this railroad track that runs north and south as zoning for this school district. All of the children that lived on the East Side of the track of the tracks will attend the schools the schools of the track. All of the kids that lived on the West sides of the tracks would attend the schools on the West Side of the tracks. Now most of the white people lived on the West Side of the track. There were lots of white people that lived on the East Side of the track, but after the school zoning they moved to the West Side of the track. As far as minorities were concerned they had freedom of choice to attend school on either the East Side or the West Side. So my two boys decided that it was their choice, they decided that they would continue the schools on the East Side. My daughter decided to attend that she would attend on the West Side. She did. She did well. Even though there is still a need for social improvements here. I will have to say my daughter attended school and lots of kids there were well received and did quite well there. There was no problem there.
WL: They went on in school?
BM: Oh yes they went on in school. My oldest son attended school at Alcorn State University. Afterwards, after he graduated from Alcorn, he worked at Cohoma Community College for a while. Then he went to graduate school at Delta State University where he received his masters in Business Administration. He left here and he went on to Washington, where he now works for the Department of F.A.S. inspector’s general’s office. He has been there for about fifteen years. My next son, Derrick, attended school at Tennessee State University. He now lives in Cincinnati, Ohio, where he works for a computer company there. He was married. His wife and he were divorced. We have two grandchildren there. They are very much devoted to their father and he to them. Matter of fact so much that every weekend holiday; they are right here in Cleveland. He and the kids are right here. We are real grateful for that. My oldest son, he and his wife are expecting their first child now. My daughter, Sheryl, also attend Delta State University, where she received her degree in Biology. She lives in Memphis, TN now. She has one son, and of course her and her husband also divorced. She has one son. She worked there in Memphis as lab technician for Saran Plow Mabaline division as a chemist. She has health problems as well as the little boy does. He has a severe case of asthma, allergies, and she has respiratory problems also. It is very difficult for here to maintain a job, a clock job. So she is now working in real estate. She is a real estate sales person in Memphis now. The little boy is twelve years of age. He does quite well in school, but he is unable to attend school sometimes because of his illness. He has prolonged absentee for periods of time. As which we have to put him, into a private school because of that. He is improving. He has excellent grades. Matter of fact he did attend public schools at one time. If I am not mistaken when he was about forth grade, he was tested. He aptitude his scores were in the upper 99% percentile. He does quite well, but it is because of his health. He is limited in terms of his extra curriculum activities.
WL: Tell me about his grandmother?
BM: Oh okay, she taught school.
WL: This is?
BM: Sylvia, my wife, the Sam Cook and Jerry Buckler, they were my promotions. She is originally from Doddsville, MS. She too was raised by her grandparents, aunts. Her mother was in Detroit. She attended school, and she graduated from school at Greenwood. She attended Valley State University. She was Ms. Valley State University. She also went to Delta State University where she got her masters degree in elementary education. So she worked here in the Cleveland School district for thirty something years. She retired. I guess she has been retired now for about five years now. So she is a proud grandmother now. You might say of three grandchildren. The fourth one is expected to come here in January. She enjoys now what she is doing. That is basically housekeeping, and traveling with me occasionally. She too has an illness. She has a very bad allergy problem and sinus. So she is always suffering with those conditions. They are not really life threatening, but they can make you so miserable. She is battling with that a lot of times.
WL: But she survived life with the busy husband?
BM: Oh absolutely, and she is still doing so. She survived, and she has been very supportive of what I do. She is very complementary. She understands. There are even times when I have to be away for long periods of time, she doesn’t let that be a problem. Though sometimes she will voice her dissatisfaction. She understands that I have a job to do, and that disatessitates me. I am away from home pretty often. Sometimes when she travels with me, she enjoys it.
WL: I want to thank you for this interview. I am especially pleased to have talked informally about. If you promise on this tape to give me an interview on Grenada that will include the civil rights movement, this next time I will do it at your connivance. You have cleared the shelve on this one. I want to thank you for that. I would like to do, it want be a part of this interview. It will be a civil rights interview. I realize how important your observations would be. Thank you.
BM: I will be more and glad to do that. This has been a wonderful experience for me. When you call me this morning and introduced yourself as Mr. Long, that was a connection right then. That was a connection right then. I realize that we just had to come together. So I changed my schedule around. I don’t regret it at all. I have enjoyed meeting you. Even though I feel that I know you. I know you. I have enjoyed being with you. You openness, canniness, and you warmth and sincere approached to what it is that you are doing, I am just very elated. I certainly look forward to a long-standing friendship and relationship.
WL: You can count on it.
BM: So any time that you are in the area or nearby, or any time we can be of any assistance to you, you just feel free to pick up that phone and call us.
WL: Alright, now I have that on tape.
BM: Great, very good that is a commitment that is a promise to you.
WL: Thank you so much. You are a good brother.
END OF DOCUMENT