Interviewer: Ambrose Webster II
Interviewee: Tommy Naron
Date: May 10, 2001
AW: And I have the honor of doing an oral history interview with Mr. Tommy Naron the Headmaster of Presbyterian Day School and we’re going to be talking about his activity and um… his role he played during the civil rights movement. Mr. Naron if you would introduce yourself to us and tell us about your history about how where you were born, your parents and where you grew up and your education if you will please.
TN: My name is Tommy Naron uh… I was born here in Cleveland, Mississippi uh… on March 22, 1950. Uh…born to Efrum Ell Naron and Irene Minus Naron. We grew up on a family farm east of Cleveland on what’s called the County Line Road between Bolivar and Sunflower counties uh… I was the last of four children, my dad had a daughter who was by his first marriage uh… he had to get custody of while he was in Service and my mother had a son that her husband got killed in World War II and they came back from the war got married and had two more babies which was my brother and me, Billy uh…is two years older than me and then me which I was born in 1950. Uh…certainly grew up in very modest means uh…on a family farm uh…we were basically an average size farm with many hand laborers grew up with many black families on our family farm. Went to Cleveland Public Schools got all my education on one street uh… went to Pearman Elementary School then on to Margaret Green Junior High and then on to Cleveland High School and uh as growing up went we went to basically segregated schools uh…the school did not integrate until certainly my last couple of years in high school uh…we did not have integration there until sometime in 1966 or so as I best remember it. I graduated Cleveland High School in 1968 and went on to Delta State and received a degree in education, got my masters degree there and went into the school business in 1973 uh…was an elementary school principal and uh… a teacher at Sharkey-Issaquena Academy in Rolling Fork, Mississippi then came back and uh…my dad was ill and back into the family farm operation to finish that up and uh…didn’t stay many years in that. Then got involved in a political race and served five years on the Bolivar County Board of Supervisors. Was in business or whatever and then came back and over the last few years been involved in being a part of Presbyterian Day School which I have a background as far as education is concerned. Certainly have enjoyed that part of it. I have the opportunity to all my education on one street which I call this is Highway eight or Sunflower road here in Cleveland, Mississippi. So uh…then in 1973 I married Memory McCool who is a teacher at Pearman Elementary School and also a cheerleader sponsor for Margaret Green Junior High and Cleveland High School and also is a Tennis coach for them and she teaches reading at Pearman Elementary School too. So uh…we are a family that had one child, he’s a senior at Ole Miss, his name is David and will finish his business degree this summer at the University of Mississippi. So we have had a wonderful life, I’m 51 years old this year, experienced a lot of things and done a lot of things and uh… been a part of a lot of things so far in my lifetime so that gives you a little idea of where I’ve been uh…and uh I haven’t gotten into anything I’ve been a part of but uh… Let me get into that just a little bit. I truly believe in public service, I believe in community involvement I have done numerous things as far as being active in all kind of professional organizations I’ve been in the Lions Club for over 25 years or so I have certainly enjoyed that particular participation, active in my church as Deacon, serving as Sunday school teacher and other activities uh…certainly the Christian faith is a big part of my life and I certainly am a advocate of my Christian faith uh…certainly professionally and a lot of different organizations in support of Delta State and the Chamber of Commerce in Cleveland and Farm Bureau and many organizations that make this community what it is uh…certainly from every kind of charitable organization uh… and causes that we need to support from March of Dimes to cancer to heart whatever it takes to be sure we have a good community. Uh…certainly believe in the Chamber and what it does, certainly believe we have a opportunity to make life better for us if we work together in the community and that type thing. So that gives you a little background of where I am and what I’ve been involved in.
AW: Um.. as far as you said that you went to Rolling Fork and you worked there at a school in Rolling Fork and then you came back up to take care of the family farm due to your father’s illness about what year was that approximately?
TN: Uh…that was in year 75.
AW: Okay, so as far as the civil rights goes you were at the schools there in Rolling Fork during the civil rights era?
TN: Uh… a little bit. I guess you’d say civil rights there yeah. Uh…I went to…when I got out of school I interviewed to go teach anywhere I could have gone to Meridian I could Hattiesburg but they offered more money at particular spots, so I took the job at Rolling Fork instead of taking it here. Um…let me talk to a little bit about race relations and about the civil rights movement. You know I certainly, the civil rights movement to me was something that I really didn’t understand completely for I didn’t know that there was a problem as far as race was concerned as I grew up because I grew up in the country, I grew up in a rural area where some of my best friends and the people I played with during the week out in the country was the children of the helpers on our farm and so I didn’t know really a whole lot of difference about as far as that part was concerned as I grew older I understood the process of what was happening in America today and how there was some people that had not been treated as fair as they should have been treated but in turn we didn’t understand because we treated people quite fair. Uh…we knew that they were going to school like we were going, they didn’t go to the same school as we did, but that was just one of those things that was part of the whole regime going on in America that there was separate schools. Uh…my family taught me that you treat individuals as persons, as real individual people who God created, and so there was never a time in my life that there was anything that would even relate to somebody being not who they should have been to another race. Uh…we were taught that God made them and we should respect them, where we had the real problems were in our area here there’s just so many people that felt like that uh…so many people in opposite some of the minority races um…didn’t live up to their expectations as they should have lived up and there were some people who let some people down uh… as far as the minorities. But in turn there were so many people who needed to see something happen in the right direction and we were doing that, I ran for political office in this county uh…ran county wide for Mississippi House of Representatives uh…and uh… I was 25 years old in 1975 uh… ran a race and came down and got and only lost by a couple hundred votes or so uh…for the Mississippi House of Representatives at 25. Then four years later went in and served five years on the Board of Supervisors and being elected in 1979 and serving from 80 to 85. And certainly I ran in a district that was majority black uh…I had friends who were of the black race uh…don’t really like the political process ever of having to through in Bolivar county to get elected but I enjoyed serving my black constituents and that type thing. But as the Civil Rights era was going and it seemed like things were going unfair to so many different people cause, I never was and never have been ugly to anyone. I didn’t know anybody could carry a chip on their shoulder because of some reason that somebody else caused a problem for or whether somebody in my ancestry somewhere back far away did something ugly to a slave. I didn’t understand that because I’ve never done that in my entire life, I didn’t understand why people should have a chip on their shoulder because I had simply did not treat…and the people I knew didn’t treat anybody ugly uh…or didn’t treat them with respect and the dignity that they so needed. I admired many of the people who I’ve came in contact with. Uh for many, many years I served on the Community Action Program Board here uh… and during that entire time I really felt strongly that I could make a difference that we could break that whole cycle of babies having babies and didn’t matter whether it was the black race or the white race but I felt like strongly that we had a cycle going on of unmarried young children having babies and somehow we, through Head Start and other particular organizations we could come together and we could do something to make a difference for the next generation that we could stop this thing of unwed mothers having babies and having teenage pregnancies and just children who were unwanted to come into this world and so many of us believed that that was possible and worked and have continued to work hard even in times when probably there was a lot of mistrust going on and some people trying to do some things that maybe weren’t as excepted on both sides of that coin whether it be in the black community or the white community. But many of us believed and people that knew our hearts and knew that we were trying to do doing the right thing and continue to believe in what we are doing. But times did change in Cleveland, Mississippi, times have changed as far as the people having rights my big thing has always been people changing hearts, that means that it gets to a point where there’s some people that truly believe… at one time I had some friends that could not understand, they simply had a real bad taste in their mouth for a baby or a child in the black community that was running around and not having any direction in their life, or having some kids to get in trouble but because they just felt like that they had a real bad taste in their mouth that those people shouldn’t even be here. But I had a feeling, hey; it was not their choice to be born into this country. We have a certain responsibility to whoever comes and we have to be sure that they have a chance to be successful. So, that’s my thought process on that a little bit.
AW: Yes sir.
TN: I’ll stop and get on to the next question.
AW: Okay, no that’s fine. Um…I think though I see where you’ve come from and I see your thought process your talking about and what makes you who you are today, um…there are events I’m sure that you can recall as well as I can recall um… I was born in ’63 but um… really stick out in your mind, maybe when you were a youth going through school and you remember hearing about Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. being shot or I myself have come through times and education and have come to an awareness of the injustices that are even still today.
AW: Um…and I was oblivious to those things when I was younger. When can you recall, what particular events can you recall back in your youth and events can you recall that have shaped you the way you are today and any particular event that sticks out in your mind that is uh… worth noting as far as historical and um… how that has helped you obviously want to seek out and help your fellow man?
TN: I think one of the things I didn’t really understand there was instances there was some people doing some things they shouldn’t have been doing and hurting other people but I was oblivious to it because I knew in my realm of things here I didn’t have that problem, I didn’t know anybody specifically was being discriminated against. You know what, hey we saw that but we didn’t…there was nobody that really brought it into the case until the people got on the crusade, I knew Fanny Lou Hamer uh…I knew her later in life but I knew who she was beforehand because that she was kin to some people who had worked for us through our farming operation. But I knew who Fanny Lou Hamer was as an individual before I knew she had a cause and before she made her giant moves in the movement to change things in America especially in our area here. But truly I think when it really came down I didn’t understand what it was about I thought it was something way away from here I thought it was something that was not a part of me. And then as I grew older and matured and understood specifically and in a time when there was integration in our schools I finally came to, I thought they were just trouble makers in 1966 and 67 and that time, I thought they were just trying cause us grief and problems. Why change. We didn’t want change we didn’t like change we liked it the way it was and so there was a part of us that said don’t do this cause your just causing trouble uh…and then there were some people who were trying to do it for political gain, they weren’t really trying to help their people and so that really bothered us you know, big time. Uh…. in our community I had, I guess the realization that really hit me uh…when I started to a point of trying to work hard for making us a better community. I knew when I really in my early twenties that I had to find a way to carry our community forward as a whole. I guess probably my community involvement at that point really made me aware that we had to bring all our people forward together if we were going to be successful here.
AW: Now you had said that in your early twenties that you saw positions that you couldn’t effect those changes whether its political or whatever. Um…in your political endeavors what would you say would be one of your noteworthy contributions as far as um… in the County Board of Supervisors or whatever. Would you say as far as being able to contribute to the community?
TN: I think I was elected Supervisor in my county when I was 29 years old, one of the youngest people to ever be elected in this county. I also was elected President of Mississippi Association of Supervisors when I was about 34 years old. Probably one of the youngest guys to ever be elected President of that state organization of 420 officials, 410 elected officials. I think where I really made a difference was that I was a younger guy, I was not from the old school and I finally realized that if we were to be successful as a community and as a county and as a state that we were going to have to bring all our people together. There was a group that still may be involved that we formed the Mississippi Public Officials Association where we brought every elected official and especially in county government together from school boards to whatever. It wasn’t municipal but it was all the others; and we came together, and probably one of the things that I was the original start of that, is we wanted to be sure that we didn’t want to leave anybody behind and that’s kind of a political statement now that Bush administration that maybe the bringing. But we came to the realization that that was, if we were going to be successful we had to be sure that everyone was touched by that and we had black officials then and in the state and we had talked to them and some of them wanted to have their own Black Supervisors Association or their black public officials and they still do but we tried very hard to not to let that happen if we could have an inclusion of everyone and we felt strongly that we needed to have that because it simply was divisionary if we had it any other way we had to bring everybody together. I think probably my thing through my work with the Community Action Program Board through my community involvement through my everything that everything that was happening is that I felt strongly that we couldn’t do it by ourselves. Schools certainly were not integrated but knew the quality had to be there. There was a line that came through the city of Cleveland which still remains, based on a court order, that came through the middle of town and we still have two different schools basically uh… we have schools that are integrated but their not integrated entirely we still have predominately all black high school and 60% plus white high school on this side, we have all black elementary schools some to a certain extent or majority or high majority and then we have some 50/50 schools. But even through that period of time when we had to make that, even with the great society of Linden Johnson uh…we found out that we weren’t going to be successful and I predict that we will never be successful if we don’t bring everybody together along economically, socially, uh… education and even to the point I use this word emotionally to a certain extent the emotional good health of a community is based on people all being together. There will always probably be some divisions as far as races uh… I see sometimes where I still feel like we haven’t made any progress in some areas but there’s so many people, you know Ross Story who is a local Alderman and teaches out at Delta State, he and I grew up together. We watched each other as we’ve grown we shot marbles under the tree together you know there’s so many of them, my black friends in this community that I grew up with that don’t understand it cause there’s no problem with us individually. Uh…if you talk about what’s happening in America and what’s happening quote in “the system” uh… there’s still some pockets of that that will always be there but there not to a point that they can’t be corrected I think to be sure that leadership is not shown. It’s not all about conservative politics it’s not all about Republican and Democrat it’s all about knowing that we’re going to be successful in our communities, whether it be economically whether it be educationally, whether it be socially whatever the area we will have to not leave any particular group out, if we do it will drag us back down.
AW: Yes sir.
TN: I’m preaching now, go ahead.
AW: No that’s okay. I uh…appreciate you taking your time in the interview, I really do. Um…I’d like to go back a little further, if you don’t mind, as far as when you graduated from high school uh… what college you went to and what helped you decide to go to that particular college and can you recall some of those events while you were in your college years?
TN: My college years, let me go back to high school, my brother was a, he was a school bus driver and he picked up the first two students that ever, the first two black students that ever integrated Cleveland High School on his bus ride. They sat on the front seat of his bus and he picked them up in Renova, Mississippi and he was very much involved in that process to be sure that the proper things happened and he was a young guy when he did this. So we went through that whole process of integration in high school but basically we only had two young ladies to actually graduate with us from Cleveland High School. Out of 125 students only two were black. It didn’t bother me too much one way or the other because I just didn’t get involved, and didn’t like controversy. But I went over to Delta State University and the reason why I went there is because I got some scholarship available uh…and I needed to stay close to home for family reasons and whatever. But then I got involved in Delta State athletics uh… and involved in helping out in the football team arena and I got some scholarship money and work money to be able to get an education with and I liked that. I love athletics but I was a part of a athletic program who got the first black athletes in football, for many, many years we never had any black athletes, and we came in from that particular deal and even to a point where at the, we had these rather particular difficult incidents as we went through the integration process at Delta State. I think the most important thing of one particular controversy when there was some uh… a lot of discussion about the black and white situation and integration happening at Delta State but basically when athletics we got to the point where we respected the guys ability. Still there were those who didn’t, had never played with a black player or against a black player and so in turn we didn’t really know how to address that. We finally got to a point where we were really really, happy about those particular guys because we respected their ability and uh…we respect them now because they have become productive citizens as part of that. But basically making a decision that was economic in one way uh… it was convenient in another way and it also uh… at the time you know we just didn’t have a problem about integration and cause we were just, right after that particular part of being part of our high school.
AW: Your brother drove the bus that picked up the first integration students for…
TN: Cleveland High School.
AW: And then you were involved with receiving the first black athletes at Delta State. Um… were there any incidents, other interviews that I’ve talked with people like at Shaw the National Guard came to Shaw at one time, there were no major incidents and that alleviated the possibilities of incidents, were there any major incidents or anything like that you…recall?
TN: A couple of major incidents that have, had a little something happen…and incident happen in the cafeteria at Delta State and uh…and then there was at one time there was supposedly a sit in with the black students at the administration building at Delta State. Probably the incidents I was more involved in, I served on the men’s judiciary council at Delta State and that was when the students governed themselves to a certain extent and um…had some involvement in some problems between black and white students that we dealt with in a very professional way and dealt with those situations where we felt they were very, very sensitive. So I had an opportunity to be a part of that particular uh…. part of history at Delta State and as I go back and I think about it today I simply look back on it as something that we had to probably go through. We simply probably had to do it and then we had to learn from it and I can assure you now that you know everybody doesn’t always get along. Uh…there was much to do about where some people came from and what their real motive was. And that’s probably where it hurt out movement here in the Delta more than anything, what was the real source. We had some people coming from out of State from other areas coming in to basically quote “cause trouble”, we seemed to be getting along fine by ourselves but there were some that really wanted to make a change and make a change and they came down to keep uh….to make major changes here like they wanted them to. And of course some people that were coming from bigger cities had done the job where they were but they felt like they could change the Mississippi Delta and make it into what it was suppose to be.
AW: I heard a lot of people say that things were just fine until people came and stirred things up or something like that but from the stirring I guess of the racial pot here in the Delta, do you feel that progression has been in made, advances have been made I know we still have a long way to go uh…with our prison systems. We have you know a inproportional amount of black people in prison verses white people um…as opposed to the percentage of population and um…we always here stories of racial steering as far as real estate and unfair banking processes and all sorts of things like that. I know we have a long way to go but um…
TN: I’m a firm believer that in this area if a guy really, really cares, work hard he can deliver, I see a lot of good black friends that are successful and business another reason they put their nose to the grind. Uh… you know I think their still pockets of people who are holding people back I think their, I’m not a firm believer that uh… that there’s completely there might be a time where we don’t need any kind of quotas or whatever. I would like everything to be based on a person’s uh…hard work and uh…that every opportunity is opened to all races and all people. I think we’ve come a long long way, sure there may be still be pockets but I believe there’s a point that we’ve come to a point where it is much better than it’s ever been as far as opportunities are concerned. Probably where people get most upset around here that I know about and some people all over the country is when someone, someone will say to him, it’s not based on whether you have the ability or not or whether your grades are a certain thing or whether you’ve made a certain score uh…the opportunities are going to be based upon whether you’re a certain quota as far as black or white of course women are involved and I’d like to know that those figures wouldn’t be played right there, but it’s still being done and uh…whether we want to or not there’s still some questions there.
AW: Well, I had the opportunity to interview Judge Pearson
TN: Did you? John.
TN: Wonderful, wonderful person.
AW: Yes sir. He was instrumental in bringing Head Start to our area and all and a lot of educational advancements took place uh… during the era that he was on a county board of supervisors and then the you know the Legislature in Jackson and all. Um…and you are a product of that era it seems, it seems you came into the county board of supervisors shortly there after and all so you may not have been in necessarily the development of it but you definitely saw the implementation and the after affects of those programs.
AW: Um…did you see much resistance from communities and residence in the community as far as the implementation of the integration and of Head Start and things like this.
TN: Well, I think you’re exactly right. I think there were pockets of resistance um…. more than anything else there was federal money so readily available a great society that Linden Johnson started in the late sixties. Uh…you know I think it was money that was just everywhere and you had money coming from left and right you didn’t know where in the world it was coming from but uh… we utilized it big time. And uh…hold on just a second…PDS. But uh… we felt really strongly that even though there were some pockets of resistance to those programs that it became very evident to us that we had to implement them and we wanted to do it from local people trying to support that instead of some federal bureaucracy saying you need to come and spend this, this and this and do this, this and this and if you do this, this and this we’re going to give you something else. And uh…even though we all knew that, hey that there was a tough sale sometimes um…but in turn federal programs with federal dollars uh….even though people were against them we knew that there had to be something done to bring us forward. I would say that people in the Mississippi Delta were further, especially minorities, were…had further to go than some other areas of the country then there were some that didn’t feel that way. Uh…my greatest fear along that whole way was that we had so many people who just simply did not understand the importance of education. Uh…I’m a firm believer that education is going to make a difference in any kind of community. Uh… certainly when you don’t have people on the same page as far as trying to get education over, that is the only thing that would change. I think there’s a direct correlation between how many cells we build for the Mississippi Department of Correction and how much, what kind of quality of education we have in Mississippi.
AW: I was going to ask you that uh…not only as far as a correlation between people breaking the law or making errors of judgement and whatever. As far as those pockets of resistance you speak of um…how would you characterize those people that uh… are resistant to the changes that took place during that era.
TN: I don’t fault those people, I really don’t fault those people and I think of this as love of change in the heart as much as it is in the mind. Uh…there’s some people that, you know we are… we do have probably in Bolivar county close to 70 percent of our population is black. We probably have more black crime than we do white crime. We’ve had some people who abuse the laws of Mississippi and Bolivar County more so in the black community than the white community just because of….
AW: Sheer numbers.
TN: Sheer numbers. Yeah more people in the Mississippi Department of Corrections as far as in their population that are black than there are white because we have a number of people, there’s 39 percent or so of our population is black. In Mississippi Delta there’s 70 percent plus that are black. So, we sometimes get those numbers skewed a little bit. America’s sure there’s too many, based on the population there’s too many black people in the presence uh…compared to than we think there should be based on the population in America, which is, I think the black population is something like 19 percent maybe close to 20 percent of our population is black. But we see so much good has come out of a real effort to educate and to be sure that we do as much as we can in rehabilitation in our penance system uh… even in the black community to make them productive citizens. We know it’s costing us money economically when we don’t do a good job of educating anyone, and I’m talking about black population or white population. Anyone who feels differently than that is probably doesn’t want to open their eyes to it. Do I have a problem with people who are still have real problems with integration, uh…sure we all do. I mean we have some problems with that but we’ve got to get past that if were going to ever, individually as a person those who do have problems as an individual as a person it only hurts that person. They, you’ve got to get past it if you got to that point, uh…don’t let it dwell with you uh…get past it as an individual and then as a family I think you have to be sure of the respect for all races and for all people. I’ve taught that in my family, I try to teach it here. Uh… everybody is a special person in God’s eyes no matter what race it is. Then as a community you have to reach out and you have to be sure that you don’t leave somebody out as far as trying to progress in the community and make it what it should be and certainly in our state. You know the flag issue, a typical example of that. Uh… you know that vote, what it’s going to do to us, I have know earthly idea. Uh… you know it was predicted all along that there was going to be a 60 percent vote for the old flag. Uh…and I think there’s some black members of our state, actually proven we had some people who voted for the old flag to keep the old flag that were of the black race. I certainly am progressive in looking at what we need but I really am, I don’t get caught up in trying to get after or demean anybody that has problems with race relations. I hope and pray that they do better.
AW: Yes sir. That’s understandable and um… you been in education all this time and you’ve seen changes take place in people and in the community. Um…one change that is notable, and once again we are not trying to negatively characterize any one person or not any group of people. We’re not also trying to focus on the negative, but historically change is not a comfortable thing. People have to you know grow into to it and have become accustomed to it and change is painful often. Um…one fact of integration or one offspring from integration was the private or the academy systems here. Um…did you know or do you remember the academy offspring from education and how that happened and what was the reaction of both the communities? And now…I’ve been in these various race relations classes at Delta State and we all know that the most segregated time in the United States is on Sunday morning. When the people of the different races, and some people say…oh it’s a cultural thing, yes but if you look at these mega churches, you have a mixed race of people all worshiping together and uh… so I don’t know. What are your views as far as the academy goes and as far as segregation and churches go?
TN: We uh… at this particular school right here we’re a Christian elementary school and we have children from all races here and from all ethnic backgrounds. We believe our school is for all people. We believe in a Christian education which is real difficult to have in the public schools in Mississippi now. Uh…we don’t have…you know the idea that we have some wonderful black children in this school but we hope that their all here to get a Christian education. We don’t argue with anyone as far as what school it is. We truly believe that education is for all children. And that uh…as far as a white academy verses a public school and that type thing. Here we just don’t have that. You know they sprung up all over. But I truly believe that it was about quality in so many parents’ eyes. And they got labeled as being a racist or that type. Where it became quality education for their children more than anything else. And certainly when you go, what we call flight-flight from the public schools uh…that happened but everybody that I really seriously wanted…cared about their children they didn’t want them to go by themselves to an area where there was no white children to go without having others to go with them. And when it finally got to a point where it was going to be an all white thing or just a few people, or let a white race go to a black school or whatever that became necessary that they may do there best for their children at that time. But I can tell you the more I’m around the white academies now, there all about quality, trying to be sure that the quality of education is there and the opportunities for the children are there. Uh… you know it would be great if it would all change and get back to something that was very normal over time but I think even for all schools I think they’re looking for quality. And I think now more than ever it’s what they’re looking for um…more so than worrying about how many blacks or how many whites are in a school. Uh…but they want safe schools, they want quality education and if the public school cannot produce that, they are going to look for something that they can have and so I think it’s more now than ever before, they’re looking for quality, they’re looking for opportunities for they’re children to be successful, where they’re safe. And certainly they’re some places that they don’t feel like they’ll be safe in certain schools. Surely safety plans available and whatever and I think that would be the case. But get back to church. Church is a special thing for everyone. People worship a lot of different ways and they’re going to decide how they want to worship and what’s particularly…I got to a church where we have black members and you know it’s not that heavily done it’s not mixed 50-50 or anything like, but we have black students from Delta State who visit with us all the time. We have a black member from Delta State. You know, that particular thing comes and goes and goes on down the road. Um…you know it’s not one of those things I dwell on or push.
TN: Uh…but it’s an opportunity for anybody that wants to come worship in our church they can come worship. Uh…do we go out and push for that, probably not. Uh…where I go to church, but we don’t discourage it either. Uh…most of us we try to be sure we get there, you know…and we support it and that approach. But in general I think you see basically segregated churches in the Mississippi Delta. Uh…you get in bigger cities you see more integrated churches. And I don’t know really where that’s going to go in the days ahead. But that’s less of a problem I think than…what our problem is in the Mississippi Delta typical on Sunday morning we have basically 40,000 people who live here uh…we probably don’t have little over 6500 people go to church on Sundays here on a Sunday morning. That’s black and white. When you think about church attendance…
AW: Goodness…we’re in the middle of the Bible belt.
TN: Yeah in the middle of the Bible belt…now if you did a survey and they ask you how many people are, have church affiliation uh…they probably say 95 percent of them say probably affiliated with a church or they go to church of something. But an average on a Sunday morning in a church service all over Bolivar county uh…you won’t find more than about 6500 people actually go to church on that given Sunday. That don’t say they members there that doesn’t say they’re not affiliated. We have a real problem with people getting serious about their religious faith and attendance wise. And uh…that makes a difference. I do not think at any form or fashion at this point in our life that anybody is real worried or getting too upset about integrating churches. Just don’t think that’s a bigger thing. I think people are looking for quality, even my best friends are looking for what’s best for their children. Our black parents that come to this particular elementary school they believe in Christian education where they can’t have in a public school.
AW: The was drawn was drawn through Bolivar, or through Cleveland
AW: And you have two various, you have one school district and two separate sets of schools. Greenville recently redistrict and combined their schools, their high schools. Um… what do you think the outcome of something like that in Cleveland would be like?
TN: I think basically, it would uh…at this point uh… if they left elementary schools the way they were and put junior highs together and senior highs together, there would probably be some white flight, probably be some white flight. There would be some that would remain uh…but there would be some white flight even in 2001 I think even for the last thirty years plus that uh… we had it the way it was if it ever changed like that and brought one school there would be some white flight. And I think there would be a fear of quality, a fear of safety or whatever, but I think there is some trust going on as far as the communities are concerned. Certainly a lot of working together. I mean we just have…just a numbers of black friends who were just good quality people who were good quality teachers who do things for children who because they love children and want them to be successful. Uh…you know…my son is a product of Margaret Green and Cleveland High School and some of his best teachers were black. Uh…so there’s some that would leave out of fear of not knowing what would happen but there would be some that would stay and uh…Certainly I personally like the idea of keeping them separate, you know why? On a given Friday night instead of eleven players on a football team playing it’s 22 being played in Cleveland, 22 opportunities instead of 11 opportunities to play. Same thing with basketball or baseball or whatever we do. It just gives more children an opportunity to play and do and participate. Uh…I don’t get into the race part of it because I do not know if we brought them all together and we became a bigger high school would we be better academically, would we better athletically, would we be better as far as race relations are concerned. I don’t think you and I have that answer and we’ll probably never know that answer unless it does come to happen and then leadership must come to play.
AW: Yes sir.
TN: Leadership must come to play in a movement like that. In Greenville, Mississippi leadership’s going to have to come because basically there’s two black schools come together and there was still a lot of loyalty to one school or the other and just didn’t want that to be closed. And Greenville, Mississippi is probably not a big movement as far as what it would take in Cleveland, Cleveland would be completely different and in that case, some of the same issues would still remain…let me catch this…
AW: Okay so we talked about many things your, background, and your upbringing, and your schooling and events that took place at Delta State and in the Cleveland Public School system. I’d just like to try and wrap up with a few other things real quick. As far as your political involvement, you talked about when you were at Delta State and when you were working down at Rolling Fork, right? Um…your political involvement and all, if you don’t mind I’d like to flesh out a little bit more detail of some of the activities uh… local activities you really helped support and get going or more instrumental in as far as enhancing, like an existing program you and your fellow supervisors helped provide better services or something for.
TN: Well, I think one of the things I always thought that you had to enhance a community as a whole and I got into my political endeavors as far as running for the Mississippi Legislator in 1975 it was all about trying to represent the people, and I knew who I was going to represent and I ran county wide. At that particular time you ran county wide for four particular slots for Mississippi Legislature. And but I you know I went into every community and I had to win in black boxes and white boxes to represent the people. My point is, which is rather difficult that there was some people who were running against me who did a little different politicking to get the black vote. And of course I was so honest I wasn’t going to promise them anything and tell them that they were going to have jobs and I was going to do this and that for them and I couldn’t do that so in turn I lost it by a couple hundred votes and in a county wide race. And so I felt strongly about as far as that part was concerned. Uh…but uh…you know, as I look at what we did to try to be sure that our county was the way it was suppose to be I think probably when I got on the county board of supervisors I truly believed that I could represent all of our constituents and I had part of the county, part of my district was in the county that would have required what I call city services, from garbage to drainage to whatever. And I had part of mine, my development area was part of that and so I spent a world of time trying to improve that because I knew how important it was for us to be able to govern in a way that had support from all parts of the community. Now, there were some people that weren’t paying any taxes, as much compared to the other and speaking of the county government property taxes is the part that pays for county government. Uh…I’m sure we had revenue sharing, sure we had some other pockets of support as far as that. But really (not audible) taxes take care of county government. So I knew that I had to give some service, I mean I had to give some support to some areas that weren’t tax payers but in the same breath I wanted to be sure that we left nobody behind, that paid every taxes or didn’t. And so I learned real quick during those five years, and this was a time of reappraisal in Mississippi, where all property had to be reappraised and that’s probably one of the biggest things that my accomplishments was dealing with that particular part. Same thing I will tell you about, in general, we truly believed that if, and throwing politics out the window that if Cleveland and Bolivar County were going to go forward and I represented Cleveland, part of Cleveland, and a lot of my constituents were from the black community because I had a majority black area. I had convinced them that I did care about them and that I did want to represent them and I did support some of the things that they were doing. Probably the toughest thing is is to be able to tell somebody something that your going to do when you know you can’t do it and in politics that game was played sometimes and there was no way in the world you could accomplish that. Guaranteeing jobs at the hospital or guaranteeing jobs in the industry or whatever. And a political person in the county supervisors he can say he can help you but he’s no guarantee. But we knew we had to employ our people, we had to find opportunities for economic development for our people. And I spent a world of time being sure that we could get everything we could to be sure that was something that was taken care of, that every opportunity for employment to get people on a payroll, to get them off welfare and get them opportunities to be successful uh…to have better self-esteem for every individual. And if the leader of that household was employed and the mother was employed or whether she supported the household and the father worked that it worked and it was something that was happening to make things economically growing in Cleveland. So, for my time that I served and I wanted to represent all the people. Number two I wanted to find jobs for our people cause I knew that was important. So we spend a world of time and a world of money uh… from support of the and working with them to produce the Rosedale port. Uh…we even bought a railroad at that time and I got heavy criticism for participating in buying a railroad system that was fixing to be taken up, but we wanted to be sure that the port had a railroad to be able to get down to the C&G in Greenville and be able to carry our stuff on from there if we needed that. We’ve been able to keep that railroad, where others have been taken up. Hopefully we’ll be able to always keep that so we can carry our stuff into Greenville and have it sold so we could go the east and the west of market.
AW: So you bought a railroad to keep Bolivar County connected with the larger city of Greenville?
TN: Right and you know that was to keep our port active too. We knew that some things that came in from the port needed to go out by rail. Uh…. it was a practical move to help us uh…do that. And so I was instrumental in that. Uh…you know, one of the things that I really been active in as far as, the area here is keeping Cleveland, Bolivar County clean. We started a mosquito control program in Cleveland and I really am strong about that right now. I think the quality of life is enhanced by that and uh… that type thing.
AW: Uh…those events, uh…I wish that’s some of the things that definitely we wanted to capture is some of those from your, you know, administration.
TN: Um hum.
AW: Some of those events that took place that brought jobs in for people and kept Bolivar County tied in with the rest of the economic, um…Greenville which is one of our larger cities. And um… you know, the way you were talking about supporting your constituency and education and social economic area and all. Those are the type of things that we want to make sure we capture. As well as, your recollections and memories of the past and where we’ve come from and where we’re at now. How we got to where we’re at and I guess where we’re going to go to, I guess that’s still up in the air. I sure appreciate your time very much and um…. if the archives asks for a follow up interview or something would we be able to come back and ask you some more specified, specific questions.
TN: Sure. I could probably do a little research on some of them to get more on my tongue about some things I probably missed telling you but uh… those are things that uh…all of us uh…if John and I got in the same room with you uh… you know, we…. that’s…. I suggest this to you uh… to all the people is to possibility to get John Pearson, get me and some other folks that have been in politics and around here for a while to be able to talk about in one room uh… you could really bounce off some super stuff.
AW: Well, I’ll bring that to their attention. (End of tape)
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