Interview with Frederick Leonard
QUESTION 17
INTERVIEWER:

SO YEAH, TELL ME ABOUT BEING IN PARCHMAN AND THE WHOLE STRUGGLE OVER SINGING AND THE MATTRESS STORY.

Frederick Leonard:

OK, alright. Now in the penitentiary, Parchman, we were only allowed one book, that was the Bible. So we did a lot of singing, praying too, but a lot of singing. And those folks just couldn't understand how we could be happy singing. So they would say "Shut up! Shut up!" And the women, we could hear the women on the other side, they'd sing to us and we'd sing to them. So they came through and said, "Well, if you don't shut up, we'll take your mattresses." That didn't bother us, we kept singing. So they came through and took our mattresses. I let my mattress go, everybody let their mattress go. The next night they gave us our mattress back, mattresses back. So, we start singing again. They, they threatened us again. We will take your mattresses and you have to sleep on that steel without a mattress, that steel was cold, and you only had a pair of shorts and a little t-shirt on. We kept singing freedom songs: "Freedom's coming and it won't be long." They came through a cell b- block—Stokely Carmichael was my cell mate. I told Stokely, "I'm not letting my mattress go." Everybody peaceful, and let their mattress go, but I remembered the night before when I had to sleep on that steel. So they came in to take my mattress, I was ho- holding my mattress. They drug me out into the cell block, I still had my mattress, I wouldn't turn it loose, and one of the inmates, they would use the black inmates to come and get our mattresses, I mean the inmates, you know? And there was this guy, Peewee they called him, short and muscular uh, uh—they said, Peewee, get him. Peewee came down on my head man, wamp, wamp. He was crying. Peewee was crying. And I still had my mattress. That's when I—do you remember when your parents used to whup you and say, "It's going to hurt me more than it hurt you." It hurt Peewee more than it hurt me.** I still wouldn't turn my mattress loose, so they had these things they put on our wrists, and they started tightening them, they were like handcuffs, and they started twisting and tightening them up—my, my bones start crack, crack, cracking and going on and my hands stood out. Turned my mattress loose. Is that good? [laughter]