Provided courtesy of Freedom Summer Digital Collection, Wisconsin Historical Society
[Background: From its founding in the early 1900s to the time of this interview, Bogalusa, Louisiana, was a "company town." Roughly 40% of the working population were employed producing paper and chemical products for Crown Zellerbach (CZ), a corporate giant headquartered in San Francisco CA. The company provided more than two-thirds of all municipal taxes, they politically controlled city government, and the police cooperated closely with the CZ 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."]
Could you tell me your name, and address and your age?
Hattie Mae Hill:
My name is Hattie Mae Hill, I'm 17 years old and I live at 711 Deloraine Street.
Hattie Mae, could you tell me how you got involved in the movement in Bogalusa?
Hattie Mae Hill:
Well, on January 28th my mother's house caught on fire.
What year was that?
Hattie Mae Hill:
1965. I was there with my grandmother down on the lower end of Fourth Street. One evening, while coming from school, I think this man was Joe Rubinstein, was in Bogalusa then, and Steve somebody, I don't remember his name now. I was coming from school and some white men jumped out of their car and attacked these men, but that was the first I knew of any white people being here.
Later on, we moved on Deloraine Street, and some students from Kansas came canvasing. A boy asked my mother if I could attend a meeting, and she said yes. Well, I've never been to a meeting before. I went down and I got interested in it. But I participated during our first march. I think I was in the first march they had. During our first march, we left and we returned back. Later on we were led by Mr. Riney Moores, Joe, and Mr. James Foreman. We went down Columbia Street, and on the lower end of Columbia Street we had an incident where a white man ran out and tried to attack Mr. Foreman. While running back on the sidewalk he was hit by a police car. Then we were ordered to go back to the hall.
Well, then we formed the youth organization and I was elected Secretary of the Youth. Don Expos was President. Later on, we called a boycott of schools. This boycott was called because we had this fair that came every year in October, and white people had three days and the Negros had one. So it was said that we wouldn't attend the fair on a day given to us but attend on white folks day. Our teachers was asked not to put up exhibits. These exhibits was put up for the white and Negro, but the Negro didn't get to see the white, so we asked our teachers not to put them up. Our teachers left on Tuesday and put up the exhibits, and Wednesday we walked out of school. We stayed out for approximately two weeks. We marched every day to the school board's office and Don Expos, President, Leonard McGee, Vice President, myself and Karla Peters went in to talk to the superintendent. Well, the first day we gave him our list of proposals and told him we'd be back the next day.
What were the proposals?
Hattie Mae Hill:
Oh, they were consisting of, we wanted better heating systems, more books, a better gym, most things that the school needed. We didn't ask for anything that the white school didn't have, just things we needed. We told him we would return on the second day. The second day we went back and he informed us that we were illegally out of school and he would not talk to us until we were legally back in school.
On the third day, we attempted to go, which was a Wednesday. That morning, Mr. Young, Ms. Hicks, Mr. Bonds, Mr. Sims, Mr. [inaudible 00:03:53], Mr. Anderson, and Mr. Hicks was arrested for contributing to the delinquency of a minor. They were arrested about 9:00. About 9:30 we attempted to start a march. We had a permit to march. The permit said that we would go down Third Avenue and then turn on Sixth and go up, but Chief Knight said that it was too wet to go down Third Avenue and we'd have to go through this, it's not really a street, it's an alley. And we said that we couldn't go through an alley. He said we had to go through there. We said that we'd turn back and go up Eighth Street to avoid the alley. He said we couldn't go up Eighth Street and that it really wasn't an alley, so we had to go up it.
So the students, we had a little conference between the leaders of it. I told Don then that if we went up the alley, that the children would be disappointed and we could just give it up. So he said we wouldn't go up the alley. So after about five minutes, Assistant Chief Tara told us that the march had been canceled and to return to the hall. Well, about this time two school buses came up.
[crosstalk 00:05:10] two or three o'clock.
Two school buses were used to take people to jail with, and Assistant Chief Tara told us that if we didn't disperse and return to the hall, that we would be arrested. But most students must have misunderstood him, and they ran and jumped on the bus. I don't know if they thought he said they were arrested so they got on the bus. Then he had them all put off the bus. We were all turning back to go into the hall, and I was just walking alone and Don Expos, by then, was taken by the hand and told that he was under arrest. Somebody said that I was under arrest. So about 59 juveniles were arrested, and about 30 or 40, they say we were adults, children ranging from the age of 17 and up. We were to stay in jail, they said, indefinitely. Gail had said this, and so when they tried to get us out, we wouldn't come out.
At about 3:00 our bond was set, which was at $300 a piece. All juveniles' parents were called to come to the jail and pick them up. When their parents got there most students wouldn't go, and so they were left in. We were in this cell, I'll tell you a little about the day the I spent in Bogalusa Jail. We were in this cell and they brought the food around about 12:00 at night, and we threw it all up against the walls and all. Then we decided that we had to spend the night in there so we might as well clean up. So we got on a clean up campaign. And we cleaned up and even had pine oil and all, we had it smelling great inside.
So two of our friends came outside and was throwing apples and potato chips in the window. The police came and told them to leave, and they left and came right back. So they were arrested for disturbing the peace by means of failing to move on, which we all, by the way, were arrested for disturbing the peace by means of failing to move on.
We were taken from the cell we were in, and put in solitary. In that solitary they had an iron door, and you can't see anything outside and you can't see out the windows, so we decided to start throwing water. So we threw water, and we threw water and we threw water. So Earl Glenn Pitton, which is a detective for the city, and some other policeman, I think John Hill, came and turned the water off. After they turned the water off and took all our Coke bottles and all, so we had a potato chip bag and we took the potato chip bag and dipped water out of the commode and threw that outside until we couldn't throw any more.
Later on we all took a nap, and we woke up and we were thirsty and all the water was off, so I called and told Don that I wanted some water, and he started beating and we started beating. You can imagine with 25 boys and 25 girls beating how much noise we had. And they were hollering, "We want some water!", and "Get a girl some water!" So I wrote this note. I had an eyebrow pencil in my purse so we tore off some toilet tissue and I wrote this note, "Help. We want some water!" We stuck it out the door and the police bent down to get the note, and Don said "Now!" And Mary threw the water out on the policeman. And it had came out of the commode so he assumed that we were urinating in the bags and throwing it on him. Our water was turned on when our lawyers came back, although they did turn it off a second time.
We got scared in there because it was getting dark, and in solitary they don't have a light. So they moved us to Gail's cell, and it was 13 girls in one cell. They didn't want 13 in there but since we said that we wouldn't make any complaints, they left 13 in there. Later on that night the fireman was coming to the window, and they said that they had sent for the school bus, and they were bringing somebody else home. Well this was the night that they had police brutality in Bogalusa, when the police went up and down the street and beat just about everybody they could find. We were then moved to Covington Jail, 10 women and 10 men. We spent three days in Covington Jail, and was out on Friday.
Another experience I had was a day while I was marching in July. We had a —
Hattie Mae Hill:
Last summer, yes. I was marching at the [inaudible 00:09:46], in just the back of the line, period, because the only people behind me were some doctors. And I was hit, it seemed to me that it was a solid object, because the first thing I thought that a policeman had hit me with a Billy. And I turned to see who it was that hit me, but nobody knew that I was really hit except the person who hit me, I guess, because everybody was still walking calm and cool. Even the doctors behind me and the people on the side of me didn't know I was hit. I didn't know I was bleeding or anything, I just started up to the line, because it really was a bad hit. I started to the front of the line and then somebody stopped me.
Well, then, doctors attended me and I was put in this car where the nurse was. In the process of changing cars a white man ran up to the car and grabbed the nurse in the back. This man, Milton Johnson, had to push the man off her, so they started to fight, and we laid down in the back of the car. And instead of laying down I raised my head up and then I saw Henry Austin trying to stop them from fighting, and a white man reached over and hit Henry Austin. Well, Henry started back and got his gun, and then I put my head down.
Henry started for his gun, and I put my head down, and then I heard three shots. Some say it was two, but I remember hearing three. Henry shot at the man and then the policeman shot in the air. Right then I didn't know that Henry had been hit, the man had been hit at least, I thought that somebody had shot Henry or Milton. As I raised up the policeman came and made Henry and him get out of the car, and the white man was laying on the ground, and they put him upside of the car and then Buddy Line escorted us to another car. Buddy Line is the Deputy Sheriff that works with Vertrees Adams. He is no longer associated with the Deputy Sheriff Department now, he's on a wildlife something.
We then returned to the labor union hall. On the process of getting there we had to follow the line, which was very long. The policeman wanted me to go to the hospital but I refused to go, so he wouldn't let us pass the line, we had to stay behind the line. When I got to the labor union hall some doctors were here and they bandaged up my head. It wasn't that bad because it didn't need stitches, although it did leave a scar. Later on that night they had a big confusion. That evening, while home, Chief Knight sent two policemen to get me to come over to the headquarters. Now I went over there, and I was still bleeding some by it being hot, and he had me to sit outside, and I sit outside, which should have been about 30 minutes to an hour's time, and I talked to no one.
I told this policeman to tell Chief Knight that I was getting tired and I was ready to go home. The policeman told me that all the men in the hospital wanted to go home too. I told him, "Well hell, he should have been home then he wouldn't been shot" and I'm going home because he wants to talk to me and I don't want to talk to him. Well, the man must have went in and told him because a few minutes later he came out and I went in the office.
In this office they had this rebel flag, which then I knew that he couldn't be too much in a police department's office with a rebel flag. So he asked me such questions as who was I, and I told him. Then he asked, did I know the men who did the shooting? Well, I didn't know them too well. I didn't know them well enough to even know their names. I told him I didn't know them. One word led to another one. Well, that night the lawyers came down and got a statement, and the next day Chief Knight sent some more men to get me, and I told them that I couldn't go because my lawyers had told me not to talk to anyone, and tell them if they wanted to ask any questions to ask them.
Henry then was put in jail, and then later sent to New Orleans because the police said that there could be an attempt on their lives that night. Everything went calm from then on and, as of now, we've never been to trial. It was supposed to come up one day and then it was canceled, so I really don't know when it will be back up. I don't know what happened to the white man, they said that he had to have another operation later on. I really don't know what happened to him. I've been gone and I've missed a lot of activities lately, but now I'm back and I intend to help the youth and movement on as much as I can.
What kind of things is the youth group going to do now?
Hattie Mae Hill:
Well, I haven't talked to the President nor Vice President in a meeting yet because I just returned Friday, but I think that we should really get something going because the older people can't do it all by their selves. Right now the youth organization has a new organization altogether, because Don is gone, he's no longer President. Leonard has took over as President and he is Vice President-
Hattie Mae Hill:
Leonard McGee. He was Vice President, but now he's President, and I think that's good to have Leonard as President. Don will be returning on the 12th of August, which means with us together we can probably get something really going, like testing, and picketing, and marching and so on.
That's the kind of activity that the youth group has involved itself in in the past too?
Hattie Mae Hill:
Yes. During school we used to test at 12:00 when we came on our lunch break, and at three we did picketing, sometimes at 12:00 and then sometimes at 3:00. Youth have been very active in the movement because lately that's all that's been marching. I don't know about now because I've been gone, but for one while the youth was doing all the marching. And I think that this march tomorrow night would be great because a lot of students will come out, and boys in particular, because we have a lot of football players who participate and they just love to fight. And that's what we need now, somebody that's going to fight.
Could you tell me a little bit about the march tomorrow night? Why are people marching?
Hattie Mae Hill:
Well tomorrow night's march is mostly concerning evidence, and conviction and arrest of some man for the murder of this 24 year old Negro that was found Saturday morning. We do this often when something happens, we give the police department 24 hours to make an arrest. If an arrest is not made in 24 hours we stage a march.
Now the reason that it's going to be a night march is because the police department and nor the governor wants a night march. We attempted once before to have a night march and it was canceled because the police department said that we didn't have enough people to march. I don't know about this Tuesday night march. I hope that it won't be necessary to march Tuesday night, and nobody else is expecting it, but if an arrest is not made we will march.
Now, as Mr Hicks said, when you say night march the police department gets all upset because they say that the [inaudible 00:18:00] will be laying in the bushes for you, and so on and so forth. Well, we figured that it's no more for the claim to be laying the bushes for us on a night march. If some of us are killed, at least we will know that we gained something out of it. Because this boy that was killed, well he wasn't in no night march but they still found him dead, and we don't know who killed him.
Could you tell me a little bit about Bloody Wednesday?
Hattie Mae Hill:
Well, they started a march Wednesday night, right after we had all been arrested. And the policemen came down on the corner of Henderson, on Henderson's corner, which is First Avenue and Fourth Street. There was a line of them, so I am told. I got my information from my little brother, my mother, and aunts and things who lived around. My brother said that the march came down the street and the policemen didn't do anything to the people marching. They were marching and all of a sudden the line dispersed, everybody went one way. I don't think, to my knowledge right now, anyone who marched got hurt. It was just the people that was standing around and all in the bars. I know for a fact that Henry Austin was in the Bamboo Club, and Vertrees Adams went in and beat Henry Austin down off of a stool with his billy club.
Who is Vertrees Adams?
Hattie Mae Hill:
Vertrees Adams is a Washington Parish Deputy, who's now, I think, working in the Varnado area, because they've had too many complaints on him in Bogalusa. And he's up for suspension now. He has been suspended once for civil rights cases. He was suspended right after this Bloody Wednesday. They went to bars and told people to close these damn places up. It was about 10:00 and they beat just about everybody they could find. And if you pass by a car, they would stop your car, and snatch you out of the car and go to beating you.
In one incident this brown boy was in a car with the Hill boy. He was taken out of the car and they started beating him, and he ran and they was just shooting at him. So they had a lot of shooting up and down the street. They took curtains down out of cafes, they just went crazy. They went into the Pool Room. This was owned by an old man, about 62 or 63 years old. They told him to close the place down and come on out of there. So he was trying to close up and come out at the same time, and then they wouldn't let him close up the place and just took him to jail. Well they charged him with assaulting an officer and resisting arrest. 62 years old now. The man that he supposedly hit was Vertrees Adams. Vertrees Adams is about 32 years old, a well built man, a old man like him couldn't hurt him even if he tried to hurt him.
They beat just about everybody and brought them on school buses. They had women chained to telegram poles, and they came down through your house and they told you you couldn't even look out the door. They told you to get your ass back in the house, and so on and so forth. My little brother was around on Fourth Street at a neighbor's house. My father went to pick him up and the policemen threw a machine gun on him and told him to get back around that corner wherever he came from. So he had to come back home. And he had the dogs walking all through the alley, machine gun.
On this night, Reverend Lewis was coming from his church in Varnado. His son-in-law had been put in jail, arrested on Fourth Street, and he went to get his son-in-law out of jail. He came back, and while driving down North Avenue, Vertrees Adams and Buddy Line stopped him. He was arrested for carrying a concealed weapon, so they claim.
Hattie Mae Hill:
It was a little pocket knife that he later on told Judge Christenberry that he had used to fix the microphone in his church. He was handcuffed behind, an old man, he's about 50 something years old, handcuffed behind and put in the back of Buddy Line and them station wagon with his face to the floor. His wife was in the car with him, and his wife didn't know how to drive, and they left her there about a mile or so from home and told her she better not move that car. It was about one something that night, so they left her sitting there and they brought him to jail.
The school bus was bloody, and half of the people that they brought to jail they had to carry off of the bus because they were unconscious or something like that, and couldn't walk, and some of them had been beaten so bad and they were bloody. They didn't make sure they weren't hurt or nothing, they just took them, and arrested them and left them back there in the cells. Well somebody called a lawyer, and I think they took Henry Austin to a doctor and he had to have, I forgot how many stitches. But when he first went to the hospital they wouldn't attend to him, and they had to bring him back to jail and then take him back to the hospital.
Mitchell Drum was one, he's about 16 years old, they beat him off and busted his nose. They really beat people up, and had women, they beat them down and then handcuffed them to trees and all. When we went to court for this, they had these two, they were called [inaudible 00:24:16], who got up and lied. Everybody was lying and they didn't get their lies straight. These two men, these are Negro men, were telling about what happened. And one Negro man said it was about 50 or 60, and the next Negro man would come up and say it's about a hundred and so on. When the policeman came up they never knew what each other had said. He said it was about 15 to 20. So, you see, they were all just lying backwards and forward.
The last I heard on the case was that Christenberry was asking for briefings in the case, and Chief Knight and Arnold Spears was up for suspension. Vertrees Adams was suspended. And Buddy Lines, all of them together was up for a jail term plus a fine and suspension. Vertrees Adams was the only one, as I know, who was suspended. I think he got suspended just after some Negro women were down in Covington integrating some nightclub, and got beat and dragged all across the ground. Vertrees Adams pulled a gun on one of the women, and he was suspended for that. But he didn't stay suspended long and now he's back on the force. That's just about all, because we haven't heard anymore about what they are going to do to him nor when it's going to be done.
Well, thank you very much.
Copyright © Hattie Hill & Mimi Real, 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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