My name is Johnnie Mae Walker and I live in Hattiesburg Mississippi. I have lived here all my life. I wars born in Forrest County on May 31. 1934. I've been a rebel all my days. It started when I first realized that the white man was doing me wrong. It was picking cotton that did it to me — all day in the sun, getting up at 3:30 in the morning and going until 8:30 at night — and all for two dollars a day. That was when I began to hate the white man. Maybe I don't really hate him but I can't think of another word.
Then when I was eighteen I thought I was really getting up in the world. The big day came when I went out on a maid's job. I worked at that job harder than I ever worked at anything in my life trying to keep it. And then the big pay day came and I got twelve dollars. (I had one child, Carolyn, so three dollars went to the baby sitter.) I quit because I wasn't satisfied. That twelve dollars disgusted me. I wished I hadn't worked a day In my life.
I followed this routine of getting a job and quitting, getting a job and quitting until 1963 when the movement came to Hattiesburg. This is the time that I fully realized that what I had felt all along was right. We are being treated unjustly; working hard and not getting paid hardly enough even to survive. This is wrong. I knew it but I did not know how it could be better, how it could be changed. And I did not know what I, personally, could do about it.
I still don't know exactly what to do. but I do know how to begin. We have to stop hating. The reason I hated the white man was because he was on top of the system. It was the system that I hated. The system kept us from going to school and getting a good education; kept us from eating well; and having clothes which is important for our children.
I stopped hating and started understanding. That was my first step toward freedom.
One Monday night I went to a mass meeting. While I was sitting there Bob Moses began to talk and he asked a simple question: "What have you to fear? Death? They've been killing you all along. Job? What job? You don't have a job. You don't make enough to even feed your families well." That is when I began thinking: "He's right. If I'm going to die, I'm going to die for something. The Negro has never been free. "
The COFO called a Freedom Day on January 22, 1964 and I was one of the first to join the picket line around the county courthouse. On that picket line I thought I was doing something to help myself and even doing something that might someday help everybody.
Since that time I've tried to register thirteen times. The registrar failed me every time but I know I'm qualified. I quit school when I was twelve at the end of the fifth grade because I hated that rotten school. It was a cold crummy joint — nothing but a run down wooden shed. And the teachers were brutal; they called you stupid and beat you if you didn't understand. But my education didn't stop. I read and studied on my own and took correspondence courses.
I realized that working for the movement would cause sacrifice. But I am the sole supporter of my two children so I tried to keep my job as a presser in a dry cleaning store. But the day came I had to make a decision would I "uncle tom" to keep that job, that survival ticket, or should I stand up for freedom? What did I really owe to my children? I made up my mind. I went with the Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party to Washington, DC. When my employer found out. I had no job.
Today is February 4, 1965. The lights were turned off two days ago. the heat goes off tomorrow and the phone gets cut off in a week but the hell with it. Somehow we'll make out. We borrowed an extension cord and ran it over to the house next door. They can't keep us down anymore.
Now I work full time for the movement and I'll be with the movement until the day I die. This is one job I don't intend to quit. My goal Is not freedom for the Negro but freedom for all men,
Mrs. Johnnie Mae Walker
Field Secretary for the Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party.
Copyright © Johnnie Mae Walker. 1965
Copyright to this web page, as a web page, belongs to this web site. Copyright to the information and stories contained in the interview belongs to Johnnie Mae Walker.