Louise Anderson, The March on Jacksonville
Tape recorded and transcribed by Victor Moffett
I guess it's a fact about Dr. King -- and all of those people, all of those people who have become great -- is not that they're great only within themselves. It's the way they can make you feel.
Now I was never able to march with Dr. King. But everything I could read about Dr. King, I did. And each time he was on TV, I listened.
But I never got out and marched with him. Like the ordinary man, I just tried to do some of the things he did. I tried to imitate him.
If something happened, and he'd tell the people, "You don't have to take this from your job," I wouldn't take it from my job, even though I'm about five hundred miles away, and he's never going to know about us. And we're not going to be on five o'clock TV.
This was a man who took some courage to do this, a man who would go to work and wouldn't do certain things because Dr. King did something in Alabama. Now they were noticed.
But if something happened to this man here, in this little job and this small town, you see, there's no one going to be there to see him when he loses his job and his family needs money. And that takes a lot of courage.
A man has to be great to have followers follow him that way, you see?
One day they were having a ball game, and I went down there because I heard the children yellin' and goin' crazy. And it was such a lovley day. It was almost Easter time.
And I don't know why, but the thought hit me, "Suppose this was Jesus Christ, on that time he was marchin' that day, and I heard this multitude? Would I have gone out?"
Or if I'd heard of Him, and I'd heard you have to treat your fellow man kindly, that you had to help someone who was down and out even if no one would notice -- would I have changed? Would I have realized that this man is right and done what he said even if I'm not near him?
Well, this is what Dr. King did. I'm not comparing him, of course, with the Great Master, but this is what he was able to do.
He was able to have this man in California. He was able to have someone who was out on the field talkin' to his mule. He was able to have someone on a tractor. He was able to have someone in a truck. He had someone in the kitchen, listenin' to his words and saying, "He's right. He's right. This shouldn't have happened all these years."
And there was someone who was listenin' from the other side, who all these years had been the oppressor. And they also said, "Of course he's right. What makes me greater just because of where and when and to whom I was born?"
Leaders could become leaders because of what they would cause other people to do and how they would make other people feel good about themselves.
But another thing, too, about that, is you can't make this other generation realize the fear. When we honor Rosa Parks, and how she was so brave and sat on that bus, the people today say, "What do you mean brave? Somebody who goes in there and sits on a bus?"
They say, "What's so brave about that?"
They don't realize the fear. They don't realize how much courage it took to go there and do that. They don't know how much courage that took.
Sometimes people used to say I was brave because I would go into the only department store here in Jacksonville, and I wouldn't drink out of the Colored fountain. Now that did take courage. I was scared. I was really scared. But I didn't want anyone to know it, you see, 'cause I was always doin' something.
But people would say, "Louise didn't drink out of the Colored fountain. She drank out of the other fountain."
But that took courage. Nobody knew the courage that it took. The courage to do things that we take for granted.
Same as the courage it took to go in and try on a pair of shoes before you'd buy them. Or to try on a dress before you put your money out there.
So we were going to give a program. We were going to give some plays and things, and we wanted some money for them. We were getting the children together.
I realized that they didn't know the poetry and black history that I had been taught. I didn't realize until much later that every school in North Carolina didn't teach black history. We had happened to have a really far thinking man as the principal of our school.
So I'm teaching these children. I'm giving plays at the churches. I'm taking the children out, and I'm teaching them the poems and the history that I knew. I'm teaching them about James Weldon Johnson and Paul Lawrence Dunbar and all.
And we began to work.
And then the policemen were doin' things around us.
And you see, each evening in my home, the Marines would go there, and they'd drink too much, of course. And here come the police, and each night they would beat someone.
And so we got out, and we started arguing about this.
One night I saw a Marine doing some things, and I went over, and I was goin' to tell the police. But when I got over there, I was afraid to tell them. I knew they weren't just going to take him to jail. I knew that what they would do is just beat him too bad, and that was not their job. They weren't supposed to beat him.
So I couldn't tell what this fella had done, and that worried me.
So I decided we'd get the children together, and we'd start us a Civil Rights movement. They had it all over. I wasn't brave enough to go down there and let them turn no hose on me. But if they were going to do things all over the country, let them do them here.
There were people going out and sittin' in restaurants. I worked in a restaurant, and I would have fed them if they'd come to me, you see, but they didn't.
Anyway, one night we were having a meeting. And it so happend that the pastor of our church, the Baptist church there, was teaching a little Negro history. These children were there. And a young couple who did a lot of work with me were. They'd come to pick up some children. They had a couple of nieces there and some other kids who were in their teens.
And they started up the street. And when they started up Court Street, right there at the end of Court Street, there were a lot of people there. That was where they congregated.
Then the police stopped the car, although they had no reason to stop it. It wasn't that he was drinkin'. He had just left the church and picked the children up from the Bible class.
Well, the police said they didn't like the way he sounded. And they knew he had been in the Civil Rights movement. And so they pulled him out of the car, and they handcuffed him, and someone hit him.
And then his wife came out. And when his wife came out, my brother-in-law and my sister who were there -- they had a little child -- they rushed out. Then the wife started screamin', and then her sister came out, who was pregnant, and they began handcuffin' them. Now we almost had a race riot there. And we all came out.
Then they took them downtown, and they booked them. But everyone from the street goes up there because we knew it had started from absolutely nothin'. It started from the police just wantin' to harass someone.
And when we got up there, then we had the nucleus of our Civil Rights movement. Those who hadn't joined us before, now they came up and joined us.
These people left the regular NAACP, because they did nothing. People were calling us from the Marine Corps, and they said the NAACP would come here. But we could never use the NAACP here because they were working with the people downtown.
So we had our own little organization. We called it Community Action. We gave programs and plays, and we got our program started. And we sent for Terry Paul, a Civil Rights lawyer, to come here and help the people who had been arrested.
Well, when he came here, we started to get more people and more people. And the ones who had been arrested beat the case.
And then we started writing down things that we wanted and things that the police did. And now the mayor wanted to speak to us. So now we're fighting two battles. We're fighting one battle here with the society people, so to speak, and we're fighting a battle downtown.
Well, we're going to demonstrate. We're going to march. We're going to have us a march on a Sunday afternoon.
And they don't want us to have this march.
A man came, one of the deacons at one of the churches, and he said, "How many of you have any jobs?"
He said, "You're doin' all this screamin' and yellin', and you're not workin' anywhere. So you know the people aren't gonna give ya anything. So what do you mean demandin' somethin' when you don't even work?"
Well, that made more of them starting joining, you see?
And the military, they were havin' a hard time too. They were really havin' a hard time.
So we started getting more people. The more they screamed their stuff, their Uncle Tom stuff, the more people we got.
And then people when they had problems with their jobs, they'd come to us. They'd come to us.
Now we're ready to march. And they came from the NAACP, and they gave us a chapter with them.
And when we were startin' marchin', we worried about that. Everybody would be worried about it.
We sold meals. We sold this and that. And we had to pay for the lawyer in the other court case 'cause they were workin' people, but they didn't have any money. They didn't have any money to have a big lawyer come.
And we'd work here. And we'd try this. And we gave little plays. And we learned the black history.
So now we're going to have a march, and we start meeting. And this right pretty black girl came here with Terry Paul, his secretary. And somebody said it was Angela Davis.
Well, Angela Davis was not comin' to our meetings. But when the white people heard that we had Angela Davis here, well, then we did get momentum!
And then they did start screamin' and yellin', "What we gonna do with Angela Davis?"
And so we said, "Well, we're gonna march with Angela Davis!"
And so we were meeting.
And you're meeting more than you really want to meet. You're meeting to build up your courage. You're meeting because you don't want to stay home and have to think awhile. You're meeting because you know your head can be beat in and you know there's nothing that don't happen. You're meeting because you know you can be killed, that they can turn dogs and hoses on you. You're meeting because of all these things. You're meeting far more than you should because you're so afraid.
And you go to work. And instead of bein' a little late, you go to work a little early because you don't want the man to have anything to say about you so he can fire you, 'cause that is your living, you see? And all of these things add to your fear.
And then here comes this spring day, this Sunday, when we are to march.
And we're going to march from the Elks hall on Kerr Street to downtown, to City Hall. And they had given us a permit to march at two o'clock that afternoon.
Now, we all feel frightened. We're very frightened. All that Saturday night we're meetin'.
We'd ask, "Does anybody want somebody to take them home?" because we were afraid.
And this day came, and Dot, my sister, and her husband went up, and they met with Terry Paul, a Civil Rights lawyer, and all of them down at the Elks hall.
Well, my sister Evelyn and I, we're just going to march. We get ready to march.
And it's so very quiet. This is the thing that gets me about this day. It's so quiet that you can hear crickets. And you hear the birds. And you just hear everything around you.
And you can hear those crickets. And the cars are not running.
Then here, here comes a police car.
And there's a policeman there. I can't think of his name, but they called him Cigar.
And Cigar was there, and he was the main man. He was the main man that everyone was afraid of. He was very bad. He'd hit you for anything.
And when the police drive by our house that day, we're lookin' out. And we see they have machine guns in the back seat.
Now, no one has done anything violent. No one has thrown anything. A single brick hasn't been thrown. But here these people are out with machine guns!
Now we are very afraid.
So Evelyn said, "Come on, Louise. It's about time for us to go."
And out on Kerr Street -- there were a lot of houses there then -- everyone is sittin' out on the porches, everyone. You usually sat on the porch after church at any rate. But all of these porches were full.
And when we came out of the door, Momma was standin' at the door. And Evelyn and I came out.
We were in our forties, you see. But when we looked there at Momma, we felt as if we were children once more.
And I reached over to get Evelyn's hand as if we were children and Momma was sayin', "Hold her hand, Louise."
And we started out. And I said, "Well, Evelyn."
And she said, "Well, Louise?"
And we started out of the gate. And we walked up the street. And we waved at Momma.
And a car passed by, and it stopped up there in front of us.
Momma came out of the house.
And a man came out of the car, and he said, "Oh yeah."
He said, "You're sisters here!"
He said, "Can we take your picture?"
And, and, and they thought they'd put our picture in the files and send it somewhere. And we knew it. We knew it.
And they certainly let us pose.
They were actin', and we were actin', 'cause they were gonna take our picture at any rate. So they took our picture, and we walked on up the street.
We walked up the street, and there's another girl came out. And when I say "girl," I mean "woman." I mean in her fifties.
And we walked on up there, and we began to start down the street. And we're very, very disappointed. I mean our feathers were just fallen because we had so few people.
There were about thirty men. And, oh, we just knew we would have a hundred, you see?
But somebody said, "Don't worry."
She said, "So many things have started with just one man."
She said, "Come on and let's go. Let's sing our song."
And so we began to clap our hands, and to sing our songs: "I ain't gonna let nobody turn me around, turn me around, turn me around ...."
And we began to make our march. And here comes Momma.
We said, "Where you goin', Momma?"
And she said, "Well, I thought I'd march part of the way with ya."
She said, "I thought I'd walk on down here to Maggy's. And since y'all were up here, I'd just walk that far with you."
And so we held her hand. And, oh, that was beautiful! We held Momma's hand.
And we walked up, and we got to Miss Maggy's. Miss Maggy was sittin' on her porch, and she said, "Miss Anderson!"
Momma laughed, and she left the line.
And when Momma left the line, Miss Maggy had some grandsons and what-have-you, and someone was there from New York, and they came off her porch, and they got in our line.
And we kept on singin' our songs. And we said, "There ain't nobody gonna stop us now, stop us now, stop us now ...."
And we started walkin' on down.
And each time we passed a house, people started comin' out. And they started gettin' in that line. And they started singin' the songs. And we were dancing. We were turnin' on the jubilee! And we were dancin', "Tell me, how did you feel when you come out of the wilderness? Did your soul feel happy when you come out of the
And we walked on there, and we got almost to the courthouse, and there was a huge house there we used to call The Big House. That was the name of it, The Big House.
And it had rooms for men. Single men in the town had rooms there. It was a boarding house like.
And sometimes Marines would come in and spend the night. They'd get rooms there and spend the weekend. Or some people would be workin' in pulp wood. And the porch was full!
And when we got there, it was like High Noon, just like the western. They started comin' off that porch and comin' out of that house, gettin' in the line, gettin' in the line.
And, oh, brother! Wonderful. Wonderful! "Go down, Moses! Let my people go!"
And we turned the corner, goin' up Court Street, and there in the line were all these Marines marchin'. Now, they had said the Marines couldn't march, and we weren't expectin' the Marines.
But there was someone, someone had knocked the sergeants. And they had organized groups.
Now, this was not some organized group with a sergeant and all that. But this was not some unorganized group. These were some Marines who had been there. These were the fellows who had been harassed and the fellows whose heads had been bashed in and who had been thrown in jail for absolutely nothing.
These were the fellows who started comin' into our group. And they were comin' in tens and fifteens and twenties.
And you couldn't see the front of the line. It was down past the First Baptist Church. And you couldn't see the end.
And we started walkin'. And we started singin' our songs.
And we passed the highway patrolmen there. And they had one black guy. I don't know how long he'd been in. He hadn't been in long because we'd been screamin' about puttin' some blacks on the highway patrol.
And we passed him. And he was just standin' there, sort of smilin'.
And I passed close near him, and I said, "Aren't you proud of us?"
And he said, "Yes, Ma'am! I'm proud of you."
And we walked on up the street, and we got to the courthouse. And when we got up there, well, I'd been working at this Italian place across the street, cooking.
And I saw them there. And I just went "Oh!" And I threw my head down.
And then I thought, "If I'm going to be fired, I'll be fired tomorrow, and I couldn't care less!"
And I went up there, and we got up there to the courthouse. And we stood around there. And Terry Paul went up there and said a few words.
And I got up, and I did something from "The Negro Mother," Langston Hughes's "The Negro Mother."
And I have known that piece since I was in elementary school -- the sixth or seventh grade -- since Langston Hughes had come to our school in High Point there. And I had recited that poem since that time.
And I got up there, and I spoke it. And I spoke it exactly the way Langston Hughes had meant it! And I spoke it the way that Negro mother would have done it.
And I became that Negro mother! And I meant every word of it.
And we stood there that day, and we sang some more songs.
And there was a girl there whose voice was prettier than any I've ever heard. She was prettier than "When Melinda Sings" by Lawrence Dunbar. And she came up there, and she sang just like "When Melinda Sings," you know?
And she sang, "Come In To Jesus." She sang that song!
And when it was over, we started marchin' back singin' "We Shall Overcome."
And I've never been so happy in my life. I've never been so fulfilled. And I'd never been so without fear.
And from that day henceforth, I stopped being afraid.
I mean, I'm still afraid of thundering and lightning, and mess like lizards and snakes, and many things, but I've never been afraid of myself. I know that if someone calls on me, I can stand up and be counted.
But it took something like that day to remove my fear.
I love that day, when we marched in Jacksonville, North Carolina.