Production Team: NA
Interview Date: August 29, 1979
Interview Place: Money, Mississippi
Camera Roll: 18
Sound Roll: 11
Produced by Blackside, Inc.
Housed at the Washington University Film and Media Archive, Henry Hampton Collection.
Interview with Rutha Mae Jackson and Willie Hill Jackson, conducted by Blackside, Inc. on August 29, 1979, for Eyes on the Prize: America's Civil Rights Years (1954-1965). Washington University Libraries, Film and Media Archive, Henry Hampton Collection.
These transcripts contain material that did not appear in the final program. Only text appearing in bold italics was used in the final version of Eyes on the Prize.
Rutha Mae Jackson and Husband. Sound Roll 11, Camera Roll 18
[This is 29 August, '79. We're in Mississippi. This is Sound Roll 11, Camera Roll 18. This is Cap Cities and Blackside. O.k., this is wild sound of the Tallahachee River to match, I believe, Camera Roll 19- Cut. Second take, wild sound, Tallahachee River. Cut. Third Take. Cut. O.k., Sound Roll 11, Camera Roll 20, Money, Mississippi.]
WERE YOU HERE THEN [unintelligible]?
CAN YOU TELL ME A LITTLE BIT WHAT HAPPENED?
Well, well, not—-I can't tell you just what happened. All I can tell you is what they said, see, that's all. But ah, he went in the store and whistled at this, at this lady or …
THE BOYS WENT HOME RIGHT, THEY DIDN'T MAKE ANYTHING OUT OF IT. THEY WENT BACK TO THEIR GRANDFATHER'S.
No, they, when he left there they said he went to Greenwood, you know. They, they was on their way to Greenwood anyway, they just stopped by there, so—-and they left there and went to Greenwood, and then they come back home sometime oh, 11:00, 12:00, between 11:00, 12:00 that Saturday night. I think now, I'm not sure. And so this lady's husband wasn't—-wasn't home. He was off on a—oh, I don't know, a vacation or went off on a trip, something like that. And ah, when he come in someone, someone told him what had happened. Then he, he and ah, they say it was some colored fellow was up there. And he got this fella and they went to, to go show him where this, you know, where this boy lived. And they went down there and got him out so. So the boy was missing for what, almost a week, I believe, or about a week.
WHERE'D THEY FIND HIM?
In the Tallahachee River in, ah, Sunflower, no, not Sunflower. In Tallahachee County. I believe that's right.
CAN YOU TELL US YOUR NAME PLEASE, FOR THE CAMERA?
Rutha Mae Jackson.
AND UH, DID YOU KNOW EMMETT TILL?
DO YOU KNOW ANYTHING ABOUT—DO YOU KNOW THE STORY?
BUT WHAT WAS, WHAT WAS MISSISSIPPI LIKE IN '55? THAT'S THE YEAR YOU GOT MARRIED.
It was nice.
YOUR FAMILY MOVED AWAY AFTER …
WHAT WAS THAT LIKE WHEN EVERYBODY WAS LEAVING? YOU WERE A NEWLYWED?
No, I hadn't gotten married.
SO, BUT YOU WERE IN LOVE AND …
INVOLVED WITH SOMEONE AND PROBABLY A CRITICAL POINT IN YOUR LIFE.
Yeah, I got married, at 30 so, '55. That year, in November.
UH-HUH. SO THAT, THAT WAS SOMETHING THAT HAPPENED RIGHT BEFORE YOUR MARRIAGE.
It happened before I got married.
YEAH. THEY SAY THAT, UH, ROY BRYANT IS STILL LIVING UP THE WAY HERE. IN FACT WE'VE TALKED WITH SOMEONE TODAY, THE LAWYER TOLD US THAT BRYANT WAS LIVING AROUND HERE.
Oh man, I don't know about it. I didn't, I didn't hear anything about that. Ah, I really don't know whether he's still living. I don't see how the way he was loo.k.ing the last time I saw him.
WHAT DID HE LOO.K. LIKE THE LAST TIME YOU SAW HIM?
Woooo, he was nothing but skin and bones, and just loo.k.ed real terrible—like he hadn't eaten in a, in a week or two.
WAS THAT IN THIS AREA?
Oh yeah. Mmm-hmm. At the, uh, café, he used, used to be right up there. Right in, there used to be a café on this side of the road, right there on this side of-—where you see your place is.
WHAT HAPPENED TO BRYANT'S WIFE? DID SHE MOVE AWAY?
I never knowed what happened to her. Never heard from her. Really people don't even—-they don't talk about that. That's something that nobody say a word about.
Uh, well, it was pretty rough for a Negro to say anything about it in the beginning, you know. So, but the white people they don't even talk about it either. So, nobody says anything about the Emmett Till case. Every once in a while you know, you hear it in the, in the big news, you know, on TV or something like that. Someone might say something about the Emmett Till case, you know, talking. They, well, they mostly be talking about something else, and they'll bring that, you know, the word up. But around here, nobody says anything about it. White or either black.
DO YOU EVER THINK ABOUT IT?
Oh yeah, I think about it, yeah. But that's all, I mean everybody was sorry. I think it hit everybody a pretty hard lick. And really I think a lot of white people saw it too, after. You know, yeah, I think because it was a great big hurt on Mississippi, and it brought, well, it brought a lot of changes. And I, myself, I believe that's the beginning of uh, uh, this uh, Civil Rights Movement here, I believe that started all that, you see. Because really wasn't too much going on in the behalf of civil right, and—-before then. So after then things really got stood up. So that's—-I think that's one of the things that's—-as far as there is today on the civil rights.
IT MUST HAVE TAKEN A LOT OF COURAGE FOR SOME OF THE BLACK WITNESSES TO GO TESTIFY AT THE TRIAL UP IN SUMNER. WE WERE UP AT THE COURTHOUSE TODAY, AND PEOPLE WERE TELLING ME WHAT THAT WAS LIKE. THEY HAD SOME BLACK FOLKS TESTIFY.
Yeah, yeah, I'm sure, uh, well, we don't—-I don't know any—anyone. There wasn't anyone from this area, I don't think, you know, somebody from up there where they—-what they said they did, to mention it, you know up in, out of this county. So …
WHERE WAS NORMAN'S UH, FARM? THE BARN? YOU DON'T KNOW? IT WASN'T IN THIS AREA?
It's in another county, see.
BUT THIS, THIS THING ABOUT THE WITNESSES, THEY MUST HAVE …
They were someone living up in the area too, see, from what I hear, yeah.
THERE ARE A LOT OF THINGS THEY COULD DO TO YOU IN '55, TO SOMEBODY WHO …
Right, there's a lot of things they could do to you. And well, it's—-a lot of things they can do to you now, you know. But things just ain't as bad as it used to be. So, you still get in a lot of trouble, just by this talk here, see. You could. Now you might not, I don't know, but you could. See, I may have to move tomorrow. See, you can't ever tell, once he find out who you all is, what you all doing.
Y'all not putting this on TV are you?
IT WON'T BE ON TV FOR A LONG TIME. IT'LL BE A LONG TIME BEFORE YOU SEE THIS. ARE YOU WORRIED ABOUT IT BEING ON TV?
Yeah. Cause I have to live here.
WHAT WOULD THAT MEAN TO YOU? I MEAN WHAT DO YOU FEEL WOULD HAPPEN, IF SOMEBODY SEES IT?
I don't know what might happen.
WHAT ARE YOUR GREATEST FEARS?
Well, just like you. You'd be afraid to stay here. You don't know what might happen.
HAVE THINGS, YOU KNOW, CONTINUED TO HAPPEN HERE SO THAT BLACK FOLKS ARE, ARE FRIGHTENED TO TALK ABOUT WHAT THEY FEEL AND WHAT THEY SEE?
Not really. Some—-I imagine some things they be scared to talk about.
Well, there ain't too, too much, you know, going on as bad as that. You know, so, so if it come down to something like that, you know, it still might be, you know, a lot of people might, wouldn't want to talk too much about it right off. Even if they know something about it, it's gonna be, they gonna talk slow, because when you're born here and raised here, and you got this in you, see, and it's hard to get it out. So, I mean fearing the white man. So, you know, you gots a lot of people that, from way back you know, from what I've heard and read that they didn't fear them, you know. But those are the main ones, some of the first ones that was dead, see. So anybody that's kind of scared of dying, you know, you gonna be kind of scared to talk about things like that.
MRS. JACKSON, WHY DID YOU AND YOUR HUSBAND DECIDE TO STAY HERE? WHEN YOUR FAMILY LEFT AND YOUR KINFOLKS GOT UP AND LEFT AFTER THAT HORRIBLE THING HAPPENED, WHY DID YOU WANT TO STAY?
Because his mother's here. All his relatives [are] here. And he didn't want to go now.
DID YOU WANT TO GO?
HOW DID YOU FEEL ABOUT STAYING HERE?
Well, I felt o.k. Because he was here with me. I felt kind of safe.
AND HOW'S IT BEEN FOR YOU HERE?
Yeah, it's been o.k.. Ah …
We haven't heard—-you know, we don't hear anything about that anymore since it happened. Not anything.
THERE HAVEN'T BEEN THINGS LIKE THAT LATELY?
IF ANYTHING DID HAPPEN AS A RESULT OF THIS TALK, YOU'D LET US KNOW RIGHT AWAY WOULDN'T YOU?
IF ANYTHING DID HAPPEN AS A RESULT OF …
I don't know how. I mean we don't know how to let you know either.
WELL, WE'LL MAKE SURE YOU KNOW WHERE WE ARE. PEOPLE SHOULDN'T SUFFER FROM TALKING THEIR MIND, TELLING THE TRUTH.
No, they shouldn't.
But they will.
THANK YOU BOTH VERY MUCH.
CAN UH WE GET YOUR NAMES SO WE CAN SEND YOU A LITTLE SOMETHING FROM BOSTON?
IF WE JUST SEND IT CARE OF MONEY DOES THAT?
Greenwood, Route 3, Greenwood.
You all through? Thank you.