Interview with E.D. Nixon

Sound Roll 3-5.

E.D. Nixon:

In 1955, it was a trying year for us. First we had a young lady who was arrested and complained to us that she was mistreated on the bus—her name, Mrs. Waynefield. And the second case we had was a young lady named Claudette Cobbin, and the third case we had, a young lady who lived about three blocks from [unintelligible] and named Mrs. Smith. All right, you people sitting here today along with a whole lot of other people would think, in it case, any case along with the person that was mistreated on the bus would have made a good litigant. Most of you would think that. Well, my experience with the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters or the NAACP and all the other organizations I had represented over a period of years have taught me a whole lot different. I had to be sure that I had somebody that I could win with. And either these other three I couldn't have had won. And to be able to ask people to give us a half a million dollars to fight discrimination on the Montgomery bus line, I ought to be able to say to them, we got a good litigant. And so when Rosa Parks was arrested, in December the 5th, I was out of the office when the call came through. And I came back, the note was sticking into my telephone, "Call home at once", and I called home and I asked my wife I said "You called me?" She said, "Yes. They've arrested Miss Parks." I said "For what?" She said, "I don't know. Go get her," just like I could go get her. Well, of course all the polices [sic] at that time wasn't too friendly to me. So I called down there to ask the—their sergeant what the charge was and he told in no uncertain terms, it weren't none of my business. Fred Grey, our local lawyer, who had just came out of law school about a year was out of the city at that time. So I turned to a white lawyer that I had known for some years and I told him they'd arrested Mrs. Parks. It was easy for me to talk to him. Of course, Mrs. Parks had done some work for his wife, see? So I said, "Call down there and find out what the charge is." And I said, "And I'll go down there and get her." So, he called me back. He said he got a charge with violating the Alabama segregation law. I said, "I'm going to get her." He said, "Come by here and I'll go with you." So I went by, he came down the steps. It was cold. By the time he got to the car, his wife come running down the steps. So the three of us went down there. I made bond for her and got her out. By the time we got her out, got in, in the car, her husband came up with a couple of mens [sic]. So she got out of the car and got in with them, and we followed her on to her house. So I talked to her a couple of hours from time to time, and I ended up by saying to her point blank, I said, "Mrs. Parks," I said, "With your permission we can break down segregation on the bus with your case." I said, "I'm, I'm, I'm convinced that we can do it." I said, "If I wasn't convinced I wouldn't bother you by it." She asked her mother what she thought about it. She said, "I'll go along with Mr. Nixon." Asked her husband, he said, "I'll support it." So that's fine. ** Then I went home and I said to my wife I said, "Baby", I said, "We've got a case that we going…boycott the Montgomery City Line. She said, "Do what?" I said, "We're going to boycott the Montgomery buses." I said, "We ain't going to ride them." And she said, "Man, don't you know these folks ain't going to stay off the bus cold as it is?" I said, "I don't know about that." I said, "If they stay off while they cold, they won't have no trouble keeping them off when it's warm." And she looked at me and she shook her head. And she said, "My husband, my husband." She said, "If headaches would sell for a dollar a dozen my husband just would just be the man to walk into the drugstore and say, ‘Give me a dozen headaches.'" I said, "I'm going to try it." I said, "I'm convinced that we can win with this case and I'm going to try it." And I recorded any number of names on the tape recorder that night before I went to bed. And the next morning I got up and I went to—at five o'clock, and I went to calling these peoples. Number one, I called Ralph D. Abernathy, and he said he'd go along with it. Second I called the late Reverend H. H. Hubbard. He said, "Yeah, I'll go along with it, brother Nixon. Have you talked to Aber—" Abernathy was secretary of the Ministers Union. I said, "Yeah." And he said, "Well, I'll call him too and tell him to call some of the rest of the folks," and I said, "OK." And I called Revered King, number three. Now this is no reflection, I have to tell people that 'cause some people would think that I'm, been using a reflection. I said after...Reverend King said, "Brother Nixon, let me think about it awhile and call me back." Well I could see that there—he's a new man in town—he don't know what it's all about. Less, no less than five hundred people in town, so I could see what is all…so I said, "OK." So I went on and called eighteen other peoples [sic] and I called him back he said, "Yeah, Brother Nixon, I'll go along with it," and I said, "I'm glad of that Reverend King 'cause I talked to eighteen other people, I told them to meet at your church at three o'clock this evening. And so then, at that time, then I talked to another Methodist minister, and I asked him to preside in the meeting. I couldn't be there that evening. I had to leave, go to work. I said, "Don't elect no permanent officers, just temporary officers till I get back." And then I called a white man by the name of Joe Azbell and you, you hear people say that a white woman got hold of one these…one of these cooks or something brought it there for her to read it, and she give it to the paper. All right, that's far-fetched. You see, I got hold of Joe Azbell and that was Friday, and I sit down and explain it to him—whether I know him personally and he knows me—and he told me he'd write a good story. He said it would come out Sunday morning all right. If these pamphlets—what these talking about—they won't put out until Friday night. And then, if the woman who got hold of one that carried to her missed it have been sometime Saturday, then it certainly wouldn't have been in the paper Sunday. But anyhow, that Joe Azbell is as I said, after we sat down and talked about it, he wrote this story, and he wrote a two column spread. He done more to bring us together anything else that I know of. It came out Sunday morning. I came in Sunday morning, my wife met me at the station right there and she gave me the paper and I read it, and I said, "This is good." I got home. I got on the telephone. I had all the ministers' names beside the wall in my den and I went down the line and called them. And I said, "Have you read the paper this morning?" Some said "Yes," some said "No." I said, "Read it. Take it to church with you, with you. Tell the peoples what is happening. Tell them that we want two thousand people at Holt Street Baptist Church tomorrow night for the purpose of letting the folks know that we aren't going to take this laying down no longer." And then the, then the, the Commissioner of Police got on the air and he thought he was…ready? And, and as you know that not only did we had the two thousand people that I was requesting—the press said we had four thousand and five hundred people. And of course knowing Montgomery like I do, I can truly tell you if we didn't have seven thousand people, we didn't have a single soul. But with all of this—that was the day that Mrs. Parks was tried—and of course I'm, I'm going to tell you as I attempted to say and I think we may be duplicating, but I want to get this in to show that about the group of people. Well, I can tell you that morning there were over five hundred peoples in and around at the beginning of the trial, and when the trial was over with around ten o'clock there was over a thousand people in and around the court. And I walked out there I couldn't believe my ears…and when the guard tells me if I didn't, if we didn't hurry up and come back I'd, he's coming in there to get me, I couldn't believe it. Now, with reference back to what we's [sic] talking about—about the church—we had this meeting that night, and of course, as you know somebody probably told you or you read about it, some of the people didn't, it started off they didn't want their names mentioned. And I don't know how in the world you could build a—an organization to boycott the Montgomery City Line without somebody's name being mentioned. I guess you read it in Reverend King's book [unintelligible] the way I bawled him out and so forth the Stride Toward Freedom [unintelligible] books make mention of it. Anyway it ended up that I said to them that night, I said, tell you what I says, "We can settle this easy without arguing." I said, "Reverend so-and-so, when we get to that night all you do, get up and call the house to order and sit down. That's all you got to do." I said, "Reverend so-and-so, I said, "You sing a song and sit down. That's all you got to do." I said "Reverend so-and-so, you pray and after that sit down. You don't have to—that's all you have to do." And I asked another man to sing a song after that. And then, after that, then I spoke. Or we introduced Mrs. Parks first, and then I spoke. Then Reverend King spoke. I said, "And we do it like that." I said, "Then nobody name don't have to be mentioned." But I said, "I want to be frank with you. We can't have a bus boycott without the white people knowing who the leaders are." I said, "You're going to have to be signing checks. You're going to have to be out speaking and all that kind of stuff. They are bound to know it." Of course, then they give in after I eat them out about it, and they give in. But it was a wonderful thing to see all those many peoples in Montgomery, after all the years that they'd had been walked on, they would stand on their feet and be counted. And of course, as I later said to me one day, and I—this is, this for the record—and she's talking about all the things that Reverend King did and about bringing the organization together. I said to her, I said, "You know Revered King wasn't actually elected till 7:30 the night of December the 5th." I said then that the papers said there were four thousand and five hundred of hymn-singing Negroes in and around the Holt Street Baptist Church, I said if somebody wasn't doing something before Reverend King come, who got all those peoples [sic] out there? I said, "I'll tell you who got them out there." I said, "You ain't going to want to know the truth." I said, "I got them out there." And it's true. I did get them out there. But we need as an organization for history's sake that somebody tell the truth about the thing…and not that how much credit I get, or Reverend King get, but the children who come…of course them children come along behind [unintelligible] like over to the school the other day. Well out of that nine hundred and some odd children, I had over a hundred children ask me different questions about the Montgomery Bus boycott. And they ought to be able to know the truth about it. And that's what hasn't been told. Everybody who tried to make it appear that somebody has done this, or somebody else did this, when it's so easy to tell the truth about it. And…