Interview of A.Z. Young, 1967
by Mimi Feingold Real

Provided courtesy of Freedom Summer Digital Collection, Wisconsin Historical Society

[Background: Bogalusa, Louisiana, was a "company town" from its founding in the early 1900s to the time of this interview. Roughly 40% of the working population were employed by Crown Zellerbach (CZ) producing paper and chemical products. More than two-thirds of all municipal taxes were paid by CZ, they politically controlled city government, and the police cooperated closely with the company security force. Located in the Pearl River region of Southwest Mississippi and Eastern Louisiana — an area often referred to as "Klan Nation" — Bogalousa was known as "Klantown U.S.A."]
Bogalusa and the Union
Bogalusa Voters & Civic League (BVCL)
Biracial and Interracial Committees
New BCVL Leadership
Louisiana Governor McKeithen
The March to Franklinton
Growing Up in Bogalusa
Deacons for Defense and Justice

Mimi Feingold:

An interview with AZ Young. Could you give me your name and address, please?

A.Z. Young:

Name, A.Z. Young, 1112 East End Street, Bogalusa, Louisiana.

Feingold:

How old are you, and how many children do you have, and how old are they?

Young:

I'm 44. My daughter is 19 years old, father of one child.

Feingold:

Thank you. Could you tell me a little bit about how you got involved in the movement? Go back as far as you want to.

Young:

I got involved in the movement when they say, "Here's the baby." I've been involved in the movement all my life.

Feingold:

Well, could you tell us a little more about that? What kinds of things were you doing before the movement really got started in Bogalusa?

 

Bogalusa and the Union

[Afro-Americans made up roughly a third of the city's population and a sixth of the CZ workforce which had been unionized in the 1930s under FDR's "New Deal" labor protections. But as required by Louisiana law, Blacks and whites were members of separate segregated locals. The CZ facilities, job categories, work assignments, and pay scales were totally segregated. So was everything else in Bogalusa — schools, parks, lunch counters, everything. When the Civil Rights Act was signed into law in July of 1964 it made such segregation illegal, but CZ, Bogalusa officials and white-owned businesses were defying it.]

Young:

I went when I was the president of a labor union at the Crown Zellerbach operation in Bogalusa for 10 years. And there was a great deal of obstacles and trying to bring about a change in the community as far as the labor production is concerned.

I had a chance to negotiate, and plus travel around to various other cities and states, negotiating different contracts and finding information about the labor unions. And this gave me a bit of experience as to what Negroes needed in order to cope with the previous situation.

Feingold:

The labor unions at Crown Zellerbach are segregated, aren't they?

Young:

Totally segregated.

Feingold:

Yeah. Are you doing anything to try to get them integrated?

Young:

During my time as president of the labor union, I wrote a letter to the international headquarters for other labor unions, stating that the labor union which I represented was ready to merge [into the white local], and to surrender our charter to the larger organization, which was an all white organization, and to merge the unions, and so we could merge the line of progressions.
[Meaning that there would be a single integrated senority list governing promotions into the better — and better-paying — job assignments which would spell the end of segregated work categories.]

This was under the regime of John P. Burke. This did not materialize. And never did we receive a letter pertaining to this until a few years later.

Feingold:

Wasn't there some kind of court case involved with a union where the white local had gone out on strike and the Negro local refused to, or something like that?

Young:

Yes, the white local #189, at the paper makers union went out on strike. Local #189A, which is a Negro union, voted not to strike.
[Mechanization at the Bogalusa CZ plants had eliminated 500 jobs, reducing the workforce to 2500 whites and only 400 Blacks. The strike lasted seven months but ended in defeat, failing to halt continued layoffs.]

The whites voted to strike, but {UNCLEAR} the international union carried the entire paper mill out on strike, because the majority of peoples in the local union, which is an all white labor union.

Feingold:

Whatever came of that whole thing?

Young:

Well, the Negroes were denied their rights to get social security, or either unemployment [while on strike]. And they just lost all the way around, the Negroes did. When forced out on a strike.

Feingold:

Have you been able to make much progress recently with Crown Zellerbach and getting Negroes jobs at a higher level, and getting Negroes into the line of progression?

Young:

I don't think that there has been a tremendous amount of progress made in the Crown Zellerbach operation. Negroes still are at the lowest level, and there are no Negroes in a supervisory capacity, even at this time.

Feingold:

What are you doing about that?

Young:

We have a court case now in session, a case presented by a Vice-President Hicks. Trying to bring about this change through a federal order, hoping that the courts will see it fit to move Negroes in the higher bracket.

Feingold:

Do you think you'll win?

Young:

It all depends on how liberal the juries might be. And actually — 

Feingold:

That's a problem.

Young:

That is very much so.

Feingold:

Some of these judges, you can't always tell what they're going to decide.

Young:

No, we're hoping that this judge is somewhat liberal, and will lean in a direction of Mr. Hicks, too.

 

Bogalusa Voters & Civic League (BVCL)

[In the early 1950s, the NAACP managed to register a number of Black voters in Washington Parish. When a state injunction drove the NAACP underground in 1956, activists formed the Bogalusa Voters & Civic League (BVCL). In 1959, the White Citizens Council orchestrated a purge that removed 85% of Afro-American voters from the Washington Parish rolls. A court later ruled the purge unconstitutional in both purpose and effect, but that did not restore Black voting rights. At the end of 1964, most parish whites were registered, but roughly 20% of Blacks. As a result, Afro-Americans comprised less than 10% of the total electorate.]

Feingold:

Now could you tell a little bit about the Bogalusa Voter's League and how the movement here got started?

Young:

The movement was started under the Moses administration. Andrew Moses was president. With McClurie Sampson as his vice-president.

Feingold:

When was that?

Young:

This was 1964.

Feingold:

And what did the Voter's League do? What kinds of things did it do?

Young:

This organization was formed in order for voters' registration, in order to hold a Negro organization intact, to inform the people about what was taking place in the community, and what was necessary for them to do, in order to educate our peoples in the right direction, where they would be able to cope with the present situation.

Feingold:

Did it have much success?

Young:

Under a segregated condition, the organization worked fine until the Negroes in this community decided to state their position. And then naturally a change came.

 

Biracial and Interracial Committees

Feingold:

What was the business about the biracial committee? Wasn't the league involved with the biracial committee?
[In 1963 and '64, CORE was active in nearby East and West Feliciana Parishes. Community leaders in Bogalusa asked them for help. To forestall them, white civil leaders proposed a biracial committee to address racial issues. CORE activist (and this interviewer) reported, "White people here are really afraid of CORE and demonstrations. They'll do almost anything to keep CORE out." Black leaders and CORE agreed to hold off to see if the biracial committee could make progress.]

Young:

Yes. The league had a biracial committee. A handpicked biracial committee. Which was controlled by the city council, with very little power. The power was limited. And not too much came from the biracial committee, due to the fact that Negroes hadn't stated what they truly believed in and what they truly wanted.

Feingold:

And how did it come about that Negroes did start to state what they truly wanted?

Young:

It was CORE who came in to Bogalusa, trying to see if the Bogalusa Voter's League would accept them in the community, and help them work out a program in order to bring about this change. Now in the beginning, the organization [meaning BCVL] denied CORE the opportunity to come into Bogalusa.

Young:

This however made a bad image in the light of the Negro leadership. And it was later when Congressman Brooks Hayes came here to speak at an integrated rally and was denied the opportunity. And when this opportunity was denied, Brooks Hayes went back to Washington and released this information, which destroyed the image of the Bogalusa situation.
[Former congresmann Brooks Hayes was an official with the Federal Community Relations Service (CRS) which had been established by the Civil Rights Act to help communities ease racial tensions. White moderates in Bogalusa asked him speak to an invitation-only interracial dinner at a prominant white church. The KKK mobilized against such "race mixing." Crosses were burned, and white moderates threatened with death and economic ruin. After being warned it would be bombed, the church withdrew its support. The interracial meeting was cancelled.]

Then, at this point, the mayor and his council thought that it was smart to call in CORE in order to {UNCLEAR} test the accommodation to make the outside world believe that Bogalusa was still coming along, and was compliant with the federal order [i.e. complying with the Civil Rights Act]. And when bringing in the CORE organization, after the one day trial test, they asked CORE to leave Bogalusa. And the organization says "No." And this is why the struggle begins.

 

New BCVL Leadership

Feingold:

As I remember, [CORE leader] Ronnie Moore wrote a letter to the mayor of Bogalusa, along with the mayors of all the other cities in Louisiana, saying that if the mayor didn't comply with the Civil Rights Act, that CORE would come in. Now, could you describe what happened after that? How the people were sent to Plaquemine?

Young:

I'm not too familiar with the Plaquemine situation, but I do recall CORE coming into Bogalusa. And they came into Bogalusa, the mayor had them for one day trial. And after the trial test went off successfully, then they asked them to leave under the control of the Bogalusa Voter's League. Then this organization, interested persons in the community, said this was not right, and the time was ripe that Negroes should make a stand. And we in turn invited CORE back into Bogalusa.

Feingold:

Now was this the time that Andrew Moses resigned as president of the league?

Young:

Yeah, Andrew Moses immediately resigned when he found out that CORE was coming back into Bogalusa because he had received, I think, some threatening calls. And the seat was pretty hot at this time.

Feingold:

And that's when you became president?

Young:

No, the vice-president of the organization moved up into his spot and he sat there about three or four days and the seat got too hot for him and he had to move.

Feingold:

Who was he?

Young:

This was McClurie Sampson.

Then there was, it was a vacancy there, which stayed open quite some time, which was held by the secretary of the Voter's League, Mrs. Gail Jenkins, until they found the person who would take over leadership of this organization. And it was a little while after thinking over the thing that I decided I would accept the position as president of the Bogalusa Voter's League. I accepted this position one weekend, and then the next week we was in the street with a demonstration, with a march scheduled on the courthouse, direct towards the mayor and his council.

 

Louisiana Governor McKeithen

Feingold:

Well, last summer things got pretty hot, and didn't you end up negotiating with Governor McKeithen a couple of times?
[By the Spring of 1965, Bogalusa had become a fierce civil rights battleground. After CORE began leading nonviolent protests against segregation, the Klan responded with large-scale mob violence, white-terrorism, and the assasination of the first Black deputy sheriff ever hired. A chapter of the Deacons for Defense & Justice was formed to protect the Afro-American community and civil rights activists (both Black and white). The Bogalusa confrontation became a major national news story. Crown-Zellerbach became target of a national corporate boycott and protests at their San Francisco headquarters. Under intense political pressure, Governor McKeithen proposed that BCVL/CORE agree to halt all protests in return for negotiations with city officials.]

Young:

Yes. We had the privilege of negotiating with our honorable governor, John McKeithen. We flew to Baton Rouge to the state capitol, Mr. Hicks and myself, to converse with the governor on the Bogalusa situation. We did not reach any type of agreement. And the next night at one o'clock, we called him long distance, asking him to come into Bogalusa. And he immediately came into Bogalusa to see if he could negotiate with the organization. But no agreements was met, because the governor wanted them to take a cool off period. Which the peoples in this city was absolutely opposed to.

Feingold:

So in other words, the governor really never did do very much?

Young:

The governor, along with the mayor, haven't done anything as far as bringing about a change in Louisiana, or any of the parishes in Louisiana, nor in the cities in Louisiana.

 

The March to Franklinton

Feingold:

And that's why you ended up marching to Franklinton this summer?
[Bogalusa is the largest city in Washington Parish, but the small town of Franklinton 20 miles away is the seat of parish government. In July of 1967, protesters led by BCVL marched from Bogalusa to Franklinton to demand voting rights and protest a range of issues, the most prominant of which was the release of two Klansmen who had shot to death Black activist Clarence Triggs.]

Young:

This was a very important reason why we had to March to Franklinton, to get the Negroes in the rural concerned about voters' registration, and get themselves prepared to make a change in the government in the state of Louisiana. And not only this, to destroy the fear that Negroes have out in the rural sections, in the state of Louisiana. And we thought that this March might be the answer to a lot of our problems.

Feingold:

Could you describe the March a little bit and tell about the dog and those things?

Young:

I think that this was one of the most successful marches that I've ever witnessed. We had no a major incidents and on the route to the March to Franklinton, we found a sign hanging up on a tree that said, "One hung Young." Further, we marched up, we found a dead dog with a sign posted by him, "AZ Young, you're next." I think that the klans was trying to inject fear, not only into me, but then the marches as well. And however we was be able march to the courthouse successfully. We made good time. Everything was timely. And we camped for a night.

Young:

Two young white fellows came into the camp area, and backed into my automobile. We immediately turned them over to the state troopers. And the statement made by John McKeithen stated that we are troublemakers and violent. And here we have two white people that's trying to intimidate us. And we had a chance to bring any type of pressure upon them, even bodily harm, if we desired to do so. But in the light of staying within the law, we felt that it was the best thing to do, was to turn them over to the state troopers.

Feingold:

Was anything ever done with charges brought against them?

Young:

The state troopers handcuffed them and they carried them away from the camp grounds. Now what happened to these fellows, I don't know. Firstly, I don't believe anything happened to them. And I'm more than certain that they carried them about two blocks down the road and released them.

Feingold:

Yeah. That's what they usually do.

Young:

Yes.

Feingold:

About how many people marched in Franklinton?

Young:

I think about 150 people left the city limits of Bogalusa. And after we got into Franklinton, I think that this number increased two or three hundred people, because the people in Franklinton, and in the rural joined into the March. There was a lot of innocent bystanders that was concerned about what we was doing, realizing that what we were doing was absolutely right, but was afraid to take a part because of personal pressure being brought upon them.

Feingold:

So in other words, you did get some support from the rural areas?

Young:

I think that we got a great deal of support, considering the fear that Negroes have in the rural sections. And I think that this going to bring about a big change, not only in Washington parish, in other parishes in Louisiana. And at this time we are holding up on the governor, due to the fact that we have an election here on the 13th.

And immediately after the 13th we are going to take where we left off with the governor, is a plan for a March on the state capitol in Baton Rouge, because the governor misrepresented the leadership of the Bogalusa Voter's League. And we asked him to withdraw the statement that he made. We haven't had no response from him. And the only way that we can get it across to him what we mean, and what we're advocating, and what we believe in is to direct a march on the state capitol, and let him know how we feel about Negroes, not only in Bogalusa, but in the state of Louisiana as well.

 

Growing Up in Bogalusa

Feingold:

I'd like to ask you a little bit just about your own life and how you grew up. Did you grow up in Bogalusa and go to school here?

Young:

Yes, I did.

Feingold:

What was it like?

Young:

Well, as a youngster, I had to work naturally, and go to school. I left home with books to go to a job and work, and I left my work and went to school, and left school and went back to work before returning home in the afternoon. This is how I was able to buy clothing, and to keep myself in line in school.

The whites here was somewhat fair, and to a certain extent, under segregated conditions. But after growing up in the city, and then you go away and you see how the other half live, and then you began to see that you have been handicapped. Plus, then you go into the United States Army, you serve some three and a half years in the United States Army with 168 days on the front line. And the 761st tank battalion.

[Known as the "Black Panthers" because their emblem was a black panter, the 761st was a segregated "Colored" tank batallion that fought in Europe against the Nazis. Their most famous member was basefall legend 1st Lieutenant Jackie Robinson who had been arrested for refusing to move to the back of a segregated bus outside of a Louisiana training base — after the war he went on to become the first Black athelete to play in major (white) league baseball.]

Feingold:

Where was that?

Young:

This was in the European theater of operation under General George S. Patton, in World War Two. I had this type of experience where I had to participate in warfares. And I felt to believe, at this point, after returning back to America, whether it be Bogalusa, or New York, or Los Angeles, that these same privileges executed by whites should be executed by me, because there is no more that no man can do than to risk his life for his country. And he should be entitled to the same things, same privileges. This is where the turning point actually came in my life, where I was willing to stand up and to fight, not only for myself, but for my people wherever they be.

 

Deacons for Defense and Justice

Feingold:

Could you describe a little bit how the Deacons got organized?

Young:

It was early in 1965, when the Bogalusa Voter's League was in its struggle for freedom, when we found out that the klans was bringing the pressure upon the Negroes, and the Negro community. They were night riding. There was Negro children and women being caught on the streets, brutalized, beaten and what have you.

We felt as though that the city police, which they did not protect us, and give us the type of jobs that we thought that we was entitled to. We thought the only means of counterattacking this was to form an organization by the name of Deacons, a protective agency, to protect the Negroes in their homes and in their community. And this organization began to grow, and it began to fight back, because we thought that it was important that Negroes took a stand for the betterment of their people, and for the betterment of their children.

If the parent in the community as Negroes was going to continuously run, then this was a bad impression upon the children. Then the children felt also that they were supposed to run and have this inferiority complex for the white man as well.

But this was a good sign, and a good time, that Negroes stood up. And all across the world, the word Deacon is known. And I think that this is having a psychological effect on a lot of young people, that Negroes should fight back because the time is right, and this is something that rightfully belong to them by the Constitution of the United States.

Feingold:

What kinds of things do the Deacons do? Like protecting people's houses at night and things like that?

Young:

Well, we usually have a continuous patrol around the Negro neighborhood, in order to keep night riders from coming in to destroying homes, or picking out one particular person in a family, taking them off, killing them, or hanging them, or whatever the condition might be. So they are not a offensive organization. This is a defensive organization.

Feingold:

Most of the Deacons carry guns around openly. And is that allowed under Louisiana law? Could you explain that?

Young:

I don't think there's a law for nobody to carry a gun on them as individuals, but we do have a law in the state of Louisiana that a person can carry a gun on the seat of their car for the protection of themselves and the peoples who accompany them.

There was at one time, Governor McKeithen, during our struggle, issued an order to the state troopers to pick up all guns in the Bogalusa area. And we naturally bucked against this request of the governor's, because we felt to believe that this was only a trick to take up the guns from the Negro, and disarm us and leave the Ku Klux Klan with their guns, and leave us in a terrible predicament.

The news, when I come in to comment in on this release that the governor had made, and I immediately commented upon this statement. And my statement to the newsman was this, that we, as Negroes, must have guns at this time to protect our homes, and our families, and our communities. And that we would not surrender no guns to him to Governor McKeithen, to his state troopers, or no one else, because we felt as though that we must protect ourselves. And if any blood flows any direction in this city, that it would be both black and white together.

Feingold:

Well, thank you very much.

Copyright © A.Z. Young, Mimi Feingold, 1967

For background & more information see: Confronting the Klan in Bogalusa With Nonviolence & Self-Defense
Additional web links: Bogalusa LA Movement


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