See Americus Movement
and Americus Protests for
background & more information.
See also Albany, Americus, & SW Georgia Freedom Movements for web links.
Background Protest Marches of 1963 Prince Hall Masons Americus & the Civil Rights Movement The Community and Fuse Grocery Implementing the Voting Rights Act, 1965 Urban Renewal in Americus After the Protests Maternal Grandparents School Integration My Mother Elections & Politics Segregation President Carter Segregation at Americus High School Summing Up
Interviewer [I]: I'd like to know a little bit about your family — how long have you been in the county?
Bobby Fuse [BF]: I'm a 6th generation Sumter countian. My family's roots are at the Lee County/Sumter County line between Cobb and Smithville and area. The Robinson (Robertson) family coming from that part of the county, the south east part of Sumter County. I am the only son in a family of three, my sisters two older than I. I grew up with my mother, Mrs. Willie Pearl Fuse Wilborn and grandparents, Mr. and Mrs. Willie Linder of Americus, and Mr. and Mrs. Lee Andrew Fuse. Moderate to middle class black family, my mother was a single female head of household classroom teacher and librarian, in the 1950's and 60's.
I: What school was that?
BF: She did most of her teaching at Westside Elementary School in Plains, Georgia, and later in 1970, she became the first black faculty member at Georgia Southwestern College as a counselor in the 70's. Then she finished out her career in the city public school system in Americus.
I: Tell me a little bit about both sets of grandparents, where did they come from? What kind of influence might they have had on you?
BF: They were the best grandparents in the world. My paternal grandparents, Mr. Lee Andrew Fuse and Mrs. Mamie Lee Foster Fuse. Papa Fuse came from around Macon County somewhere — Macon or Dooley County. All I know is he came down to see my grandmamma a courting, and had to hang under a bridge over the Flint River for the train to go by — a train trestle. He used to tell us a good story about how he had to hang on for dear life, so he could get down to Americus to see my grandmother. Grandmother originated from Tifton, Georgia, she is a twin and presently still with us at 96.
My grandparents owned and operated Fuse Grocery and Market Company for some 50 odd years on Hampton Street in Americus. In addition to being a place to buy small groceries and a business, it was also the headquarters for the Christian (Colored) Methodist Episcopal Church 6th District and the area office for the Prince Hall Masons of Georgia. Grandfather was a businessman, handyman, real estate man, and had a lot of rent houses that he liked to fix up. My grandmother pretty much ran the store, as well as being a midwife and dispensing castor oil medicine to the neighborhood and that type of thing.
I: Hold on just a second Mr. Fuse, do you know anything about her midwife training?
BF: Her midwife training? I don't know where she got her midwife training other than at that time black women would bring their children into the world. My two sisters were both born in our two-story house on Achrom Street and at the home house on Hampton Street. I was the first member of the family to be born in a hospital. At that time it was a colored hospital but not the brand new Sumter County Hospital, which is fifty years old. I'm fifty-one so I am sure it was the colored hospital on Wild Street and J. R. Campbell Street.
I: The reason why I asked that is that I think it was in the 20's that the state began its midwife certification program. She may have been carded on the ground floor —
BF: I know she would have been licensed certified [inaudible] at that time if you knew how to do it and the community expected you to do it you did it. My maternal great-great grandmother, Mrs. Clara Kitchens was the leading midwife in the county and worked under several white doctors including Dr. Frank Wilson III. My maternal great grandmother, Mrs. Janie Robinson learned under Mama Kitchens. In some of those cases there would be some legal licensing. For a long time we didn't have but one licensed nurse in town, Mrs. Bernice Banks, but I don't recall any licensure at that point at that time it was a matter that she was designated midwife — she was the midwife.
I: Was she the main midwife in town?
BF: I'm sure there were several others. I'm sure that she wasn't the
The Prince Hall Masons
The Prince Hall Masons
I: What about the Masons? Did your grandfather know John Wesley Dobbs?
BF: Yes, he was a contemporary of John Wesley Dobbs, a close friend of John Wesley Dobbs, and Mr. Dobbs and another prominent local man, Mr. Burleigh encouraged my grandfather to enter the Free Masonry Prince Hall of Masons, and he rose to high ranks on the state level. He was the district deputy master, senior deacon in the lodge, and a state trustee for the state office for a long period of time.
The state Prince Hall of Masons owned maybe two or three pieces of property in the state, one is the headquarters building on Auburn Avenue in Atlanta, Georgia and another piece of property is somewhere in South Georgia, and one of their biggest pieces of property is some 40 to 45 acres here in Americus, Georgia that is owned by State Masons. And my grandfather took great pride in being the trustee in charge of taking care of that property for all the Masons across the state. He was the district deputy grand master, grand lodge officer, and 32nd degree Mason.
I: Can you talk about the places the Masons played in his life and other men like him at that time?
BF: My grandfather, like I said, my grandmother ran the store; my grandfather never rose before ten o'clock in the morning. There were only two occasions that he would get out of his bed before ten o'clock in the morning including day light savings time. One was to do something for the Christian Methodist Episcopal Church, and the other was to do something for the Prince Hall Masons. When I left to go to graduate school at Michigan State University I told Pops that I'd have to leave Americus by 5 or 6 o'clock to go to Atlanta to catch an airplane and he said, "Well I better tell you goodbye now because I won't be up at that time of day." And true enough my grandfather was not up at that time of day.
Two things: Christian Methodist church, I mean he loved us and all, but that man was — CME Church and Masons that was his life and he did everything he could do to be a good steward of that work. He was very well respected by a lot of Masons throughout the state of Georgia, and there was a large turnout at his funeral when he passed some two or three years ago.
I: I heard he lived to one hundred or there about?
BF: He was ninety — my grandmother is ninety-six now so he was about ninety-two or ninety-four when he passed.
I: I just kind of wanted to understand the importance and significance of the Masons during that time.
BF: The Masons, for me, is right up there next to church membership. I know there are some people who have all of these devilish ideas and evil worship things, but the way the Masons operate, the black Masons operate, in Georgia, one has to clearly understand that black Masonry is literally an extension of the church — be it Baptist or CME or whatever. And Masonry is basically another way — really just a bunch of men getting together to worship. Same thing with the [Order of the] Eastern Star, the way the Masonry is. It is not just a fraternal social organization, but the religious missionary side of Masonry is what takes precedent; the morals, values being taught there are different from social, political, and professional organizations.
I: I know, correct if I'm wrong, but didn't John Wesley Dobbs help use the Masons to kind of engage the voter registration at a pretty early point too?
BF: He was one of the early voter education leaders in Atlanta as a member of the Negro Voter's League in Atlanta and an unofficial mayor of Auburn Avenue. And Dobbs pushed the need for not only the right to vote but the ownership of property and that was very important thing to my grandfather that he was a landowner, and a property owner and several black people at that time owned their own land. And that was always an inspiration to me during that time that despite segregation one could be a land owner and thereby receive some degree of respect in this community. But yes, Dobbs used that connection, I'm sure statewide —
I: Did you ever meet Dobbs?
BF: No. I didn't
I: I guess he died when you were probably about nine or so.
BF: Maybe. I didn't know Mr. Dobbs; I didn't know him.
The Community and Fuse Grocery
The Community and Fuse Grocery
I: Well I think you know, you sort of said that this was more than just a grocery store.
BF: Yes. Fuse Grocery and Market — you have to understand there were a lot of these small markets throughout the black community, Mom and Pop markets that Mr. Buck Williams had all over town. I guess Mr. Buck Williams was the white sponsor or whatever, and my grandfather also used to bottle sodas with Mr. Buck Williams.
BF: They used to bottle sodas. Their shop if I'm not mistaken, their shop is where a parking lot is for Friendship Baptist Church. I remember Pop showing me some broken glass still there, but they used to sell it. They used to bottle it, manufacture and sell soda pops.
But these Mom and Pop stores — Pops had one. Mr. Charles Hopkins had one; Dea. Norman Cole, Mr. Charles Hopkins and so many people across the city had different markets. Ours was special because all of us grew up in the store. You would think that we had cart blanche to candy and cookies and ice cream. But we did not. Thinking back I remember being restricted to evening parties after Pops closed up — we could go and get a snack and a soda but you wouldn't — we didn't eat cookies all day and we didn't go in that showcase without permission either. That was just — you didn't do that.
But I do remember all of the characters: my paternal great-grandmother, Mrs. Frances Fuse Colbert, lived in the back of the store and my aunt who is still with us at 96, coming to get groceries. She always waited until Saturday afternoon and evening, I think to just sit around, I think to see people come in the store. I mean she would always wait till all the other customers had been waited on before she would select her groceries and walk home. This store was, as I said, Mama's place.
My grandfather was connected somehow to the Sheriff's Department and a respected bail bondsman with the Sheriff's Department. Mr. Jay Bird Seay would get a little drunk, fight, get locked up, and I remember Mr. Jay Bird because he was a real nice man and worked hard on the pulpwood truck all week. Friday and Saturday night Mr. Jay Bird was going to have a little taste. I mean, he just — you know, during the week, no problems. Mr. Jay Bird would come in off of the pulpwood truck and go to bed, but Friday night Mr. Jay Bird would fight and cuss and we could hear him from across the street.
Then momma would go to the porch and yell across the street to get Mr. Jay Bird to straighten up and calm down and he would. She was a very small frame lady. I don't know what it was but she could yell across the street at the pool room, or she could just go stand on the porch of the store and somebody at the pool room across the street would say, "Hey man, don't you see Miss Mamie Fuse over there on that porch" and they would, I mean these were grown men, and they would snap to attention and be quiet and stuff.
Mr. Jay Bird would get drunk almost every weekend. Pops would have to go up to the police department and get him out, because he had to go to work on Monday morning and couldn't be in jail. I do remember Mr. Jay Bird very affectionately, because even though he did drink a little, he was a hard working father to my friends, and a very friendly loving man to all of us in the Seaboard Bottom. I remember one time he had a cold and he came to the store and momma had prepared some castor oil for him. This was a giant of a man, and she had to yell at him to him to swallow this stuff and he was acting like a big baby about to cry. I mean it was just incredible.
The store was also a training ground for young people and their manners. Now let me tell you about this store; my grandparents did not believe in self-service, well my grandmamma didn't and this was long before 7/11 or other modern convenience store, but she trained people that, "You don't go into the ice box, you ask me for what you want and I'll go in the icebox so the drinks stay cold." I mean one would come to the store and ask, "May I have a Coca Cola — Can I have an ice cream bar?" or something and she would go in and get it. A lot of times, especially some of my smart aleck friends from up North, would come to the store and they'd be confused and make that tragic mistake of being a smart-aleck and would go into Mrs. Fuse's icebox and they would learn quickly that you don't do that.
I: This would be people that came to Americus to go to college?
BF: No, the kids would be relatives of neighbors who visited during the summer or other holidays would come down from New York or up North, where you know, the custom is self service stores walking all behind the counters and stuff. I know how restricted we were. I mean there were areas of the store we didn't go into when we were little kids. As babes, we were raised in a large fruit box. All of us had a box instead of a baby pen. All of us the grands were raised in a box by the potbelly stove that she kept us safely in.
She was a counselor for people, you could tell because people were coming by to talk. My grandfather counseled many ministers as they would be assigned to Scott's Mater — Scott's Mater Tabernacle CME Church. They had various ministers assigned there over the years and he was a father figure for many of those ministers, some were very young. I remember that.
I: He was a deacon?
BF: Yes. They are called Stewards in the Methodist Church and he was trustee. He was Chairman of the Trustee Board for many years and again a State Officer in the CME Church Sixth Episcopal District. Like I said he was always going from one CME meeting or conference for one reason or the other. He was treasurer of the church and I think treasurer of his district for a number of years.
I: The store your parents opened was the center of the community.
BF: In that community, now I'm about to tell you about these other stores. The Seaboard Bottom is where we're talking about, on Hampton Street. The Bottom was where Seaboard Coastline Railroad ran next to the Big Ditch gully. We had a store across Russell Alley from Mr. John Dorsey who had a cafe, and they grilled sandwiches and sold beer. Now my grandparents never sold beer, but Dorsey would sell beer. Across the street from Dorsey's was the pool hall and another little grocery store, Miss Anne's store. There might have been a cleaner's on the other side of the Big Ditch, but pretty much a commercial district there in Seaboard Bottom.
There were several stores in the Bottom, and ours was just one of them. Up
the street Mr. Norman Cole and his wife ran a store, two or three hundred
yards up on College and Hampton Street. Another three or four hundred yards
beyond that on Beal Street, Mr. Hope Merritt and his sister Mrs. Bessie
Maye had a grocery store. These grocery stores basically sold every day
meats; pork chops, bologna and a lot of lunch sandwich type stuff. Ours was
a favorite stop for some of the postmen. A retired postman stopped me the
other day to talk about getting a Nehi soda with a little ice in it and
something — I think a honey bun. Utility men would stop and
get a fresh slice of cheese and cookies and have lunch on the truck. A
small store but very important part of our growing up.
Urban Renewal in Americus
Urban Renewal in Americus
We had to close it because they were getting up in age and urban renewal changed the nature of the city in so many different ways. So many different people and urban renewal came to that section and removed some of the houses — "slum" type dwellings, and that included the store, and upgraded community and such.
I: Nobody yet has talked with me about urban renewal in Americus; maybe you can kind of skim some of the aspects of urban renewal as it played out here. Nobody has told me this story at all.
BF: I don't know well enough to tell you in terms of dates and projects, but I can tell you that the urban renewal process helped in a lot of ways and in a lot of ways we lost some things. It helped in terms of some black businesses, churches, dwellings, homes — being improved in terms of the standard of their facilities, but it also removed the blacks from certain areas. It decreased the black entrepreneurship in this city. It destroyed a great deal of physical and cultural history in the city.
I think one would have to see pictures and there's probably some in the public library, I hope so, of the magnificence of Forsyth Street. A United States Highway that was equal to Auburn Avenue in Atlanta, from Sumter County Hospital's location all the way back to downtown Americus. The courthouse used to sit where the Citizen's Bank is now. But all the way back East on both sides of the street were large, elegant black homes, residences. The Masonic Temple was there. The black Catholic Church was there. The homes of the Barnums, the Bryant's and the Burleighs, the Seays, the Hendersons, the Lewis' and the McGradys, and I can't think of them all.
I: And that's on Forsythe?
BF: That's on Forsyth Street, both sides of Forsyth Street. Barnum's Funeral Home sat there on the corner of Prince and Forsythe Street; a magnificent stone structure. The Masonic Temple, I mentioned, was on Forsyth Street. I want to say that the Elk's Lodge might have been on that street. Mr. Eddie Bryant, Sr. had cafes, laundries, department stores, and repair shops. Mr. Albert Blanche had television and radio repair shops on both sides of the street where now the Federal Court House and the Post Office now stand. These were owned, owned, by black people. They had Big Bethel Baptist Church set on Lamar Street.
All of this principally in downtown Americus, and with the urban renewal or urban removal all of that was wiped out and replaced with businesses. I imagine the business community needed to grow. One of — but I'm not so sure that the reasons given — you see, it seems to me that under urban renewal when imminent domain is used to take property, it's supposed to be used for public projects. And what confuses me is that public buildings were not placed on those areas, but private economic buildings, in terms of shopping centers as opposed to, for example, government buildings or the new city hall was supposed to be there I think in that strip I'm talking about. I know there was suppose to be a large civic center in place there but never came to be.
One of the other major urban renewal, or urban removal projects was along North Lee Street. We'll get to this later, but things have not changed. It has always been interesting to me that South Lee Street, from Forsyth south, is a State Highway, and that the state maintains it, the state provided for it, and it's as smooth as a baby's behind. North Lee Street is a bumpy road keeping car alignments out of shape and it's not a state highway. Yet black people owned businesses and magnificent homes and structures, Victorian structure homes along that portion of North Lee Street. Mr. Cicero Crawford had a two-story mansion on North Lee Street across from A. S. Staley High School.
The high school is were the Americus Institute; the educational institution for black boys and girls of the 20's and 30's was located. Then Staley High was placed there in 1936 by WPA workmen, which later was burned. That project removed a lot of large, older graceful homes and replaced with Habitat for Humanity type huts, and that was very disappointing because when those homes were taken people were expecting more upper class or middle class type black homes to be placed there.
I: Who is Mr. Cicero Crawford?
BF: Mr. Cicero Crawford was a black man. I don't know where Mr. Cicero Crawford made his money — probably railroads — very light skinned black man. He and two or three of his boys, his family, lived there and they were considered wealthy people. To me they were nice folks — his sons were very nice and leaders in the community and I looked up to them as friends of my father's. They were my daddy's friends and all, but I just think back, as large a columned mansion as you found on South Lee Street, black folk owned the same thing on North Lee Street, except that it's no longer there.
There was another urban renewal project — The Southside Seaboard Bottom was the other one. Beal Street Area was another and one on Southside — we had a lot of homes that were dilapidated but they were homes. A tight knit community was destroyed but those homes probably, some of those needed to go, some of them were okay, but some of them needed to go. My grandparent's house was spared but the store was not. I never could understand why the store had to go, and could not be re-established unless a grandchild did it. One day I might put the store back there, I don't know, just put it back.
I: That was the end of the store?
BF: Yes, we tore the store down. They really — my grandparents — we were all really out of town; college, Atlanta and stuff and my grandparents were getting too old for the new types of customers. They didn't need to be arguing with someone about going in the ice cooler to get a Coca Cola, and it was growing too dangerous also. We decided it was time for them to retire from the business and let it go.
It's just interesting that throughout this whole upgrading process, none of the major streets except Lee Street and maybe Ashby Street were paved. Throughout the black community — not until 1970 were Jackson, Academy, Lester, Patterson, and Magnolia — those streets were not even paved. They were red, muddy, and had trenches that scrubbed the underside of your cars every time it rained.
I: Until the 1970's? Wow.
BF: Until 1970 when schools were supposed to be integrated by
federal court order and white citizens would have to bring their
kids on this side of town now had the streets blacktopped and
I: You rose kind of out of —
BF: I've got another set of grandparents too!
My maternal grandparents were Mr. and Mrs. Willie Linder. My maternal grandmother was Mrs. Pinkie Robinson (Robertson) Linder and she was a cook, a master cook. She was a founding member of the famous Jordan Sisters Gospel Singers. My grandfather was a houseman, yardman, custodian, and construction worker. He helped build A. S. Staley High School as a WPA worker in 1936. That's about the time that he brought his family, about 1933 when he brought his family from the country to the city, the major move in his life. He always talked about when "he came to town." He was very proud that he had been successful to bring his family off the farm and bring them to town.
I: They were also from Lee County?
BF: Yes, my families were from around Desoto — between Desoto and Cobb. The other family members: The Robinson, Styles, Cutts, Mercer, Clark families — they're still there now. Like I said he worked hard. He was the yardman for several white people here in town, basically a houseman. The Nassaus and the Sinacas were two of his favorite families. I can't remember many others. Like I said, later on in life he became a custodian, working at the hospital — no he was a cook at the hospital, worked in the kitchen at the hospital. He was a custodian in one of the schools, and then a construction worker in the construction at Magnolia Manor Retirement Center — helped build that place — and became one of the first custodians after it was built and retired from Magnolia Manor.
My [Grandmother] retired as a cook, head cook from Magnolia Manor
Retirement Center. She had been lured there from the public schools where
she had worked, Staley High School and Sumter High School. She was a
magnificent cook all around. She too was a leading member of The Order of
The Eastern Star, mostly at the local level. He was also a Mason, mostly at
the local level. They had two daughters — my aunt, Minister
Lillie Belle Linder, and my mother, Mrs. Willie Pearl Wilborn. My aunt
Lillie Belle did not have any children, and my mother had three.
I: What was she like?
BF: My mom?
I: I'm guessing she's still alive?
BF: Yes, she's still alive.
I: What kind of things did you bring from her that are important to you?
BF: My grandmother is the one who spoiled me. Anybody who knows or is listening to this story should stop laughing at this point. My grandmother spoiled me. I appreciate everything that she did for me — especially protecting me from whippings from my mother. My grandmother did not see the need for my mother to beat me, so the joke in the family is that I never did get enough whippings when I was young because Big Mamma just didn't have that, and it wasn't necessary anyway — I was a good kid.
My mother was married to Bobby Lee Andrew Fuse, Sr. — very well liked local professor, Principal of McCoy Hill School — just all around good guy. He's the son of L.A. and Mamie Fuse, but my parents were divorced in 1953. He stayed around a little while, between here and Albany getting his Master's Degree between Albany and Atlanta University. Then he moved away so my mother raised us all on her own on a teacher's salary. Check research to see what that was like. I do remember in 1976, what my first paycheck as a teacher was in relationship to hers, tremendous difference. You could do that I guess on that kind of salary back then. Nevertheless, we never wanted for anything.
I am blessed with two younger sisters from his second marriage. Both sets of grandparents were supportive and my mother made sure that — she had an incredible ability and sense to try and make sure that we didn't go lacking for anything — we didn't. Of course some of my friends with mothers and fathers did have better some things materially, but I'm not sure that we all faired in the riches of life.
My whole family is religious and we know that it is through our faith and obedience to God, salvation and the grace of Jesus Christ that has brought us to our daily existence. My mother used to always say — "she didn't send us to Sunday school, she took us." She's always been an active church member. My grandmother always said, "If you want to be a member of the church don't just be a floor member, be an active member and participate in the church, church activities and church life." Even today my mother is an active Christian educator with the General Missionary Baptist Convention of Georgia.
I: You didn't grow up in the CME then —
BF: No, no, no. Before my parents were divorced I had been
christened in the CME church, but after my parents were divorced
my mother went back to my maternal grandparent's church, which
was Friendship Baptist Church in Americus, Georgia. So we became
members and grew up there at Friendship, and I'm still a member
I: Let me ask you a question that I have to ask everybody. What taught you the dos and don'ts of living in a segregated world? What was proper? What was off limits? How did you learn that?
BF: Everyone — I mean everyone taught you that, so you could survive. I remember my first encounter with segregation, and I was a little fellow. I had two sisters, both very smart but this is about Lillie LaVette and myself. Across Prince Street from the side of Barnum Funeral Home on Forsyth Street — you've got to understand that Barnum Funeral Home faced Forsyth Street, but the side of it was on Prince Street. I think that's where the garage was for the funeral home and the big hearses and Cadillacs and so forth. Across the street was a Phillips 66 gas station.
I remember I was a little fellow, because I couldn't read whatever it was the white man was raising so much cain about. It seems that for some reason my family — when you're talking about all of them you're talking about a tribe, it's a lot of people — were at the funeral home. I don't know if it's when my great-great grandmamma had died or what, but we were there. I know it because there were so many family members all over. I guess I must have needed to go to the bathroom or something and my wise sister took me to the bathroom.
Well, when we came out of the bathroom, that section of the building that I still see today, this white man was ranting and raving — "Don't you see? Don't you do that no more?" She was clutching to me saying, "Come on, come on, come on," and all I remember was looking across the street and seeing all these black people dressed up looking across the street, and I don't know what went on — but as I was growing up I realized she had taken me into the white bathroom. This man that owned that gas station was raising cain, but I couldn't read. I didn't know what the alphabets were at that point, so I know I was little. So, thinking back, I realize that, that this may have been my first encounter with segregation.
But at the same time I'm proud to say that as I looked at the side of Barnum's Funeral Home, there was a slew of black people looking back at me. They were standing there and when I crossed the street they hugged me and probably said, "Don't do that no more," but they were not angry or mad and I didn't get a whipping. I don't remember going across the street or anybody yelling at me as if I had done something wrong. I won't say that there was applause when I was coming across the street, because they weren't applauding, but their eyes were. I might as well have been James Meredith walking somewhere, but I do remember that.
The whole community taught us how to behave and conduct ourselves, at the same time the whole community taught us the reason — and the reason was not to support a segregated system, but that one day it would be a brighter day. That if it wasn't a brighter day under Jim Crow Laws and segregation, because in the '50's we weren't thinking much about doing anything that far because we're having to live with it. Even though in other places, the NAACP and all were doing things in other sections of the country, we were working it out.
Still we were taught to be our best selves first of all, and then not hold it against other people that they didn't know what they were doing, and be ready to shine and be what we really are as opposed to what someone else's opinion of us was. That was done by the whole community — the rich out front, militant black people, and behind the scenes meek and timid housemaids — it was done by everybody in different ways. Not just segregation, but all that I am, much of what I am comes from those women at Friendship Baptist Church who would encourage me on Sunday afternoons. "You still being a good boy?" and give me a quarter out of the corner of their handkerchiefs and stuff like that and send me back to college.
The discussions about Emmett Till and other national news events from The Pittsburgh Courier, The Ebony Magazine and The Jet Magazine and so forth. The black men at the barbershop —
I: Is this the one on Cotton Avenue?
BF: Yes, the one on Cotton Avenue — I got my hair cut at Mr. Fletcher Morgan's place. There were other barbershops, but Mr. Morgan cut my hair or Mr. John Cunningham. It was also the place where I saw my pastor get his hair cut along with the jiving, hip hop dudes in the community. You get in there and see these different types of men and hear what they say, how they talk, how they treat one another and how they may be cussing and carrying on until the preacher comes in and then all of the sudden they'd change the style of conversation.
I: Wasn't there a black YMCA in Americus?
BF: No, we didn't have anything like that, as a matter of fact they took all the extra-curricular activities out of the Sumter County Schools and the Americus City School System after we integrated and kept them out until 1970. We had a youth center, and that youth center came from the black owned hospital that used to be the hospital for blacks.
I: And that was on Hampton Street?
BF: That's on Wild Street across from Campbell Chapel A.M.E
Church — there used to be a black hospital and was owned by
the Colored Federated Women's Club — strong group of
enlightened ladies. They were strong in the church, strong in the
community, and strong at the bank. Strong in the
bank — Color Federated Women, owned some
property — enlightened folk, and they were the cultural
leaders. They made sure we were exposed to the classical things and behind
the cultural things in life.
Segregation at Americus High School
Segregation at Americus High School
[See Integrating Americus High School for background information.]
So at this youth center we used to have dances and at the dances one learned courtesies, how to socialize, and learned proper etiquette and all that types of life skills. The Colored Federated Women — when blacks could not get musical instrument training — hired a teacher from Albany, Mr. Murray, to come up on Saturday mornings to train, and give us lessons on the instruments.
I: So he was the band director?
BF: No, he was the band director in Albany at a black high school, but he would come up here at the hiring of the Color Federated Women, and I think our parents maybe had to pay a half a dollar to help out.
I: What did you play?
BF: I played the percussion instruments — the drums, snare drums and tympani. It's interesting because out of that comes another story. When they integrated the schools, I was an accomplished snare drum player and I was — I could play the drums, I could read music, and when I went to Americus High School in the 9th grade, '66 or '67, I went in the 8th grade, but the 8th grade unit was at Anthony School, because the high school had burned down.
We had a fire at Americus High School. We have a lot of fires in Americus History, but Americus High School burned, so they split us up and the 8th grade students were at Anthony. Old Anthony School. I think it must have been a empty school that would later become a segregated private school near Georgia Southwestern College. But anyway when I was promoted to the 9th grade and went to the main building I just knew that I would get to join the band.
As a matter of fact, at that time, as I said most of all of the extracurricular activities had been pulled out of the public schools and were now sponsored by private citizens in their private homes. This would prevent integration on the social level of schools, in other words black people could to go to school, but they don't have to have them in Key Club and they certainly don't have to have them at the Prom. All of that was taken out of the schools. So I was told I would have to join the beginner's band and I was furious, but I was trained in persistence and overcoming struggle, and this was part of the fight. Put me in beginner's band and I shall excel — and I did.
My 10th grade year put me in the intermediate band, and I excelled. I did very well. I was supposed to join the Varsity Band my 11th grade — might have been my senior year — in other words — one of two things either happened. I either was kept in the intermediate band 2 years, 10th and 11th and was suppose to join it in the 12th, or which is more likely the 12th or I was supposed to join it in 11th. Either way, the veteran band director who had been there for umpteen years resigned and the school system couldn't find another band director, so guess what? There was no official band that year. I'm still trying to find who the man was that there was a man from one of the churches who came to volunteer, a private volunteer, to direct the band or keep up lessons on his own for that year. Basically they had succeeded at keeping the band segregated, the music program segregated, and during this whole time, athletics was the same thing.
The reason I think it was the 11th grade year is because I think the group of black students ahead of me in the Class of 1969, they were the year ahead of me in class of '69. One day McArthur Scott and Robert Freeman were not on the bus to go home with us — "What are they doing? Where are they?" So it was probably the spring going into their senior year.
We get home and think that maybe they had to stay in or have school discipline. McArthur — the white boys always used to pick on McArthur so we just figured McArthur probably whipped somebody that day or probably stayed after school to get some extra help. About 5 or 6 o'clock in the evening we get this call to realize that these boys had been by the hospital, they had been beat up, for going out for football at Spring Practice Day. The whole alumni (white citizens), had been invited to watch the going out of the new squad. These two little black boys had stayed. They wanted to play football, and they let them go out. Not only did they let them go out, they deliberately threw the ball to them at the sidelines. They're just boys at the mercy of the city. Old guys kicking, hitting, and spitting and all they want to do is play football. This was in Americus, Georgia in '69 to '70.
Now when I talked about agreeing to do this, I wanted to suggest to you that it is very important, very important, that what I say to you and what everybody else says to you about this history of Sumter County is imperative that it be matched up in some way with the events on the state and national scene. Because important in this whole conversation is not only progressive New South Carl Sanders being a governor for the first time, a wealthy democrat, possibly a progressive [inaudible] in the early '60s, followed by [inaudible] and the different things that are going on in the nation — the whole Muhammad Ali situation, the Mayor Jackson running for U.S. Senator, you've got to mesh all of this up with that because we're not isolated, we were not isolated from many of those things. Some of us knew those guys.
See, the old Dobbs connection and L.A. Fuse — there's just such a connection there. I'm sure the same thing happened with Barnum because Mrs. Mabel Barnum, a wealthy woman funeral director in her own right, was the one who took the bloody shirts to Washington DC to help stop the white law enforcement and the invited white deputies from beating up black folks for marching, because she was one of the only black folk who had the money to buy her plane ticket and was used to flying — so with Mabel, who was used to flying and was close friends with Dr. Dorothy Height and the Council for Negro Women, that's where this Colored Federated Women's Group came out, so these people are connected nationwide with other prominent black women like Madame C.J. Walker — right here in Americus, Georgia. Mrs.
Mabel Barnum took her kids to the inauguration of Presidents; that type of thing was going on. So, you have to know, you have to make sure of the interaction because there's a peculiar amount of interaction between black citizens in this county, on the state and on the national scenes.
I digress now on two points, one I often wonder what did Americus need a Windsor Hotel for in 1889, in the city that size and of that magnitude. It would be like putting a Weston Peachtree Plaza [hotel] in Americus today with its 70 stories. The other thing is — the election of Jimmy Carter as President of the United States, something that white southerners, and so called southerners and borderline southerners could not do without the African American vote and a connection with Sumter County, and the black vote in Sumter County, and Atlanta, Georgia. Those two things just make me wonder about this place and how magnificent it is, as well as, how powerful it is and how influential it's been in everybody's history.
[Editor's Note: This is the second tape of an interview spanning three tapes. The beginning of this tape begins mid-conversation. The interview is concluded on tape three. The date of this interview is unknown.
Interview with Bobby L. Fuse, Jr.
Interview Date July 30, 2003
Transcription by Regeana Hinds January 2010
Copy Edit Dr. Glenn Robins
Interview Edited June 15, 2010
[BF]: I think A.S. Staley ["colored" high school] outfitted a 50 or 60 piece band, outfitted top to bottom, uniforms and instruments, and probably 3 students knew how to play an instrument. Now diversion was from some of the best. I know Sumter County High School hired 2 band teachers to teach band from Florida A&M University, best band directors, you know, best that money could buy, designed to keep black students at the black school. Let them juke, jive and dance and when we got to Americus High School we found they didn't have all this equipment and all this stuff, just basic hardcore academics, and at the end of the year for some black students the academics was tough, the treatment was tough. You know, one can only take so much of spitballs everyday, ink on your shirt, and your books being kicked out of arms everyday, you know, one can only take so much of that. People spitting in your food, you know, and it was very hard and some students had to go back to the black school. They had to go back for their own economic, political and mental security. [I]: Oh yeah.
BF: This thing, racism, is crazy. I never got a scratch on me. Never was seriously touched, but they would pick on my good friend, Phil Merritt, everyday. They hit Phil in the nose. We rode in the taxi, and we would have to pass the store where many white students gathered after school on the way home. We sat in the back of the Mrs. Jackson's taxi that had a seat in the back window of her station wagon. This boy threw a rock, almost broke Phil's nose. I had never seen so much blood in my life, and I always wonder why they hit Phil and didn't hit me. It was like that with a lot of us. I won't call any names, but we all knew who, who they were — for some reason.
I: Since 7th grade?
Protest Marches of 1963
Protest Marches of 1963
BF: Not much, because see I wasn't a part, I wasn't a part of the movement when in the evening they would march because I was too young. I remember being on Lee Street, living on Lee Street, with my grandparents, when they marched from Allen Chapel A.M.E. Church down to Minyard Bottom, at the bottom of Lee and Ashley Streets.
[See Americus Movement & "Seditious Conspiracy" (1963) and Americus Protests (1965) for background information.]
There they would be met by all ranks, so, all ranks of law enforcement, state troopers with helmets, sticks, dogs and large number of deputized white citizens and teenagers equipped with bats, billy clubs, electric cattle prods, and one by one inch sticks. I remember them marching down there and being beaten because that was one of the summers that we would go to the peach field, and in the morning the people who had marched the night before would be on the truck to go to the peach field to pick peaches. Several of the guys, the big older guys, had gashes across their head.
I remember one night, my grandfather, Willie, who was by no means an active participant of civil rights movement. He was a moderate — African American, understood the place of the Negro with white people, but he, he was, I mean, let me go back and say first of all, remember that's the one that was so happy just to bring his family to town. And literally, that grandfather — as opposed to the other one who may have understood the movement more — this maternal grandfather I want to say was the one who, who never came out of 1933. You could buy him a new suit of clothes or brand new shoes and he might not ever wear them, but you let a white person give him a pair of shoes, a used pair and even if they didn't fit he'd wear them.
He always had a funny thing about it, he always liked second-hand clothes, but he'd go out and buy the most expensive air conditioner he could for the house. He was weird like that. He'd go buy a top of the line lawn mower, you know, but anyway, I remember a night he was on the porch and some of the other men after the students had marched, some of the men who were quiet moderate blacks; I remember them coming by and saying, "Come on Willie, we going down here to see what these children doing." He'd say, "I ain't going down there fooling with them white folks."
Big Daddy went, and I knew I could go then because Big Daddy would take me places. I used to like to hang out with Big Daddy. When school was out Big Daddy used to baby-sit. We'd go to town and get bologna and stuff. He told me I couldn't go, and I said, "You gonna walk down there." He said, "No, you stay here." And that was one of the few times that he did not allow me to run with him and I knew something was up. That gave me my signal something's up. So, I had seen these guys beat up so I didn't want to see those older men beat up also. I wish I could remember who some of them were. I can't see their faces, but I knew that they were not civil rights men.
BF: They were deacons, masons and just men on the corner, but they were going to see who was beating up the children. They probably didn't say a word, but they probably went and looked because when they came back they could call names of the mean whites that they had seen. So and so's boy was down there; he ain't no problem. He's a farmer, so and so, you know, that insurance man that come by and be going to black folks houses. Yeah, they were able to go and see who was doing this stuff, and I remember them saying, "They down there beating up our children, and the children ain't doing nothing wrong." Whatever time that was, I regret that I don't know the dates.
I: I think the Night March was around the summer of '65.
BF: Well, that, nah, they wouldn't have been beating in '65.
BF: This had to be in the beating — you see, you got to understand the beating, when they were beating them up, '65 wasn't any beatings.
BF: You don't have any beatings after the white students. You got to remember, national exposure was here now.
["White students" refers to the SCLC SCOPE project volunteers from Washington State University in the summer of 1965.]
BF: When the white students came south, all the beatings [of] the demonstrators stop.
I: 'Cause this is earlier, Okay.
BF: This had to be 1963 or 1964.
Early times, that's when there were no television cameras. And whites, every time whites see a camera, they would take it from that person, and they could. There are no pictures of this; there are no pictures of like Birmingham with the dogs —
BF: — and the water hoses, okay. But it's probably around that same time, 'cause in Americus, they not, they are not civil with the water hoses, they trying to kill folks.
I: I was going to ask
BF: They cracked 3 civil rights worker's heads and then charged them with insurrection —
BF: John Perdue and Don Harris and ...?
I: Ralph Allen?
BF: Ralph Allen, yes, yes. One black and two whites and that's about the same time as [inaudiable], cause those boys were in jail, and we thought we was going to have one of those situations.
BF: Like, like those boys over in ...
[Referring to Chaney, Schwerner, & Goodman who were held by the police in Neshoba County Mississippi and then lynched by the Ku Klux Klan.]
BF: in Mississippi. But they were beating folk up every night. Taking them to jail some, and then for some reason turning them loose. They were beating up folks with electric cattle prods —
I: I was gonna ask, were there police dogs, and cattle prods?
BF: I don't remember the dogs. I had to ask somebody about that. [inaudible]. I: ... and other people said they didn't recall.
BF: I said, do you remember any dogs? And I could see, where, I don't remember any official police dogs in Americus. But people did bring their privately owned big dogs out at the marchers.
BF: I am told that yes dogs were there. Now I don't remember the dogs because I don't know what dogs we would have had. We certainly wouldn't have had trained police dogs. Unless some farmer brought their own personal out there which, you know, I just don't see a lot of trained dogs being put in that situation, and I am sure that even a racist would want a trained dog. I mean your dog get away, there is your dog hurt or something or doing more damage than you really want to do there. You would be liable, you know, so I don't know how the dogs — I don't remember the dogs now. I just got to come to that. Unless the police had dogs like the State Patrol or somebody like that.
But they did have cattle prods, cause I had no idea what a cattle prod was,
it is this electric stick that they use to shock five to six hundred pound
cows with to get them to move. They were putting that on children, burning
up their skin and stuff.
Americus & the Civil Rights Movement
Americus & the Civil Rights Movement
The other thing I want to share with you is about — we know that this is '62 or '63 and '64 — whatever summer you get this huge surge for voter registration, not Freedom Riders for public accommodations, because by now you've got some public accommodations. By now, after Birmingham you got some places letting people ride the bus.
BF: They may not be sitting at the lunch counter, they are riding the bus so you've got some things going on, but at some point when we get into voter registration, SNCC or somebody gets the idea or maybe SCLC, with this idea of bringing white students from up North to the South to help with voter registration.
[The SCOPE summer project of 1965.]
So, you get a large influx of whites assisting in the movement in Americus. That helped to stop the beatings, because now you not only had white students in Americus marching with black people, but you don't know who these white folks are. They couldn't go out there beating the heads of white students from Yale, Princeton and Cambridge, because their daddy might hold the bond on the fire truck, their daddy might hold the bond on the next company coming in. We had that situation with the Manhattan Shirt Company that still stands as a trophy out there now.
BF: The Manhattan Shirt Company, we knew it was there, we knew it employed only white women. I forgot about this, but I remember when the first black women went to Manhattan to sew. Now black women have always known how to sew, but they couldn't work at Manhattan Shirt Company. One of the nation's, and that's before you get into interstate commerce, one of the nation's biggest shirt maker, best shirt makers right here in Americus, Georgia, but they didn't allow black people to sew the shirts, so we had to expose those types of things. White students came, and television cameras especially in ['65]. And somewhere around here with '64 you get public accommodations with the Civil Rights Act. Americus played its part on the national scene in helping to get that passed, because John Lewis spoke at the March on Washingtonin 1963, and talked about the three men who are in jail in Americus, Georgia on charges of insurrection. So, in '63 I still wasn't involved, because I can remember being in the house watching that all day.
I: Right, right
BF: Look here and get an understanding, seeing Dr. King, Jr. on TV. And so on, you get how the Americus movement helps as an impetus for the 1964 Civil Rights Act.
BF: Then we get into voter registration and the fight for the Voting Rights Act of 1965.
BF: We get to the national scene now — are we in the LBJ election yet?
I: LBJ '64.
BF: Yeah, cause we got [the] assassination of a Kennedy in '63. Right, we got the March on Washington in August then we got the assassination in November. Then you get the Civil Rights Act of '64 and —
I: Johnson's election in '64.
BF: Johnson's first election yes, Johnson's election in '64.
BF: Did I mention you also got to make sure that you talk about the Vietnam War? Cause, you got a Vietnam War going on, you got a draft going on. You got a local draft board. Let's talk about Governor Lester Maddox, because he's got these upstart blacks raising sand in Americus, and whites on the draft board and maybe your behind ain't being honorable. Lester Maddox; segregationist comes in and puts a black on every selective service board in the state.
BF: So, somehow there becomes a protection there for misuse of that, but you got to remember the Vietnam War, this place, the Johnson thing, all this stuff got to be —
BF: Yes, it's got to be looked at as where it at. I'm trying to get to the use of these white students and the television cameras in Americus, because Americus was on television two years, leading up to '64 to help integrate things. So that when the Civil Rights Act is passed and signed 4th of July weekend.
I: '64 right?
BF: Okay, I remember it's 4th of July weekend because I got all these cousins at the family reunion, and it's one of the few times were allowed to leave these cousins and go do something else. I mean, that was the day that was family day, and you didn't do something, but all of us, my classmates and I; we got together for some reason, dressed up and went to the Martin Theater, through the front door. It was no big deal, but we went through the front door, and as I remember we were treated cordially, we watched the movie.
BF: I think maybe later on we might have had somebody throw some popcorn at us or something while the lights were out and stuff, but we pretty much sat to ourselves and sat in a way that you could watch out. Somebody might sit, sit the screen if here, somebody might sit sideways to kind of see.
I: At an angle?
BF: But management I think did pretty good as far as I was concerned in terms of keeping us safe at the theater. These white [SCOPE] students come, sometimes they're beaten, the freedom library is open and we get books to read. The youth center and at the Elk's Club. Miss Liz Harris used to run this library, Freedom Library we called it, and we get —
I: I didn't know anything about that.
BF: and we get exposure, well again this Colored Federated Women's Youth Center downtown, becomes the freedom library headquarters. Now these are moderate, quote-un-quote older black ladies that, I mean these are good black folks that were supposed to know better.
BF: This thing is crazy, but they lend the place out to, I guess at
least lend the place, loan it out, and in a room we had books all over.
They had new books, novels, fictions and so forth, and maybe the Carnegie
library had not integrated by that time. But anyway, these whites come and
they help us out, but they mainly help us out by bringing the news media.
News media is the reason why the whites did not continue to be inhumane
with the beatings and incarcerations, and the hiding of folks in jails and
stockades for months.
Implementing the Voting Rights Act, 1965
Implementing the Voting Rights Act, 1965
Then in '65 you get the, what I call the test case of the Voting Rights Act for the country in Americus, Georgia. Remember I told you about how we, how Americus and Sumter County always try to avoid doing what is right until it is forced to do right like school integration, so to speak — again the schools are segregated at this time, so to keep schools from being fully integrated.
I: Right, yeah.
BF: They do the same thing in voter registration, voting and elections and everybody else in the world understands what the Voting Rights Act says, you know no poll tax, no —
I: Literacy test.
BF: Literacy teat, you know no unequal lines. This place, and you'll have to check all of this with Reverend Campbell's wife, Mrs. Mamie Campbell, Mrs. Gloria Wise, or Mrs. Lena Turner.
I: I talked with her [inaudible]...
BF: Because, for a long time I thought that they — this is so crazy — they came up and tried to integrate a white man's line —
I: Right. White women.
BF: Yes, that's right. At first I thought it was three lines, but it wasn't, it was four, it had to be four because —
I: This was an all-purpose black line, I think [inaudible] ... I think there were three lines because all black people [inaudible] ...
BF: For some reason, I want to know why I thought all these years, I thought three 3 lines, but somebody else told me it was four.
I: They had three.
BF: But it was three.
[Separate voting lines and booths for white men, white women, and the small number of registered Blacks of both genders in a special election for Justice of the Peace. One of the Black women arrested for standing in the white women's line was Mary Bell, a candidate for the office being voted on.]
BF: Because these wto, the blacks and black men and black women...
I: Were in the same line?
BF: ... are mixed; in other words the black folks don't mind being together.
BF: But the white folks don't want to be mixed with the black folks and —
I: White women were separated.
BF: — and the white women don't want to be with the black folk.
BF: But for some reason that I know that black and white females were segregated.
I: That's exactly right.
BF: And just why, some say that white women didn't want the black men standing behind them — but anyway old ladies, and the beauty of the movement in Americus is a lot of this stuff I don't think happened out of planned —
BF: It's just a Rosa Parks repeat is what it is. People get tired of being tired, they just do something. So, I don't know if these poor ladies had decided, but I imagine —
I: At different times.
BF: — they walked up there, probably walked up there at different times, and decided well no, we not going to vote over here, because everything probably going along pretty cool in Americus, you know everything. Was it November?
I: I think it was back in early summer.
BF: Because this is leading into either back-to-school or Christmas shopping.
I: I think it was in the summer.
[July 20, 1965]
BF: You may not be able to govern a man's heart, but they say you can sure govern his pocketbook and his pocketbook will send a message to his heart about how to do what is right. But anyway, you know the story. Mrs. Campbell has given it to you directly. The black, poor black women that voted in the white female voting line, this is [inaudible]. This is a test case, this is after Selma, Alabama, this is after the Edmund Pettus Bridge. These folks locked up four black women for voting in the white women's voting line, and those women would not come out of jail. Oh boy, here we go again, but they didn't come out. Oh, it was a mess. We boycotted, economically boycotted this city 'till it hurt, and at the Greater Friendship Missionary Baptist Church, Friendship Baptist Church, and I have to say that over and over because its my church, I'm proud to say, opened its doors as much as Allen Chapel and some of the smaller churches.
Be not confused, the Bethesda and the Catholic Chapel, big type churches did not always welcome the freedom movement, but these small churches that had deacons who worked for white people who could have easily said, "No, no," you know, "we can't get involved in that," were the very ones that opened up their churches.
BF: But it was at Friendship Baptist Church that the [SCLC leader] Reverend Hosea Williams in his prime as the preacher had a handkerchief on his back and stood up for it to fall on the pulpit floor.
BF: No man can ride your back if you stand up. The black men occupied the deacon's corner, the deacons in the community, the masons and all these black men, they were over in the deacon's corner in the church, and then over in the women's corner, through the bathroom door enters white businessmen.
BF: There's 15 to 30 white business men, they're brought in, they're seated in the women's missionary side to hear Rev. Hosea Williams and to then to plead at the mass meeting for the black community to call off their boycott. This is why I was wondering when it was leading up to Christmas cause it might as easily be leading up to Christmas or the starting of school, cause they were hurting financially. Black people had cut the money, were not spending money in Americus, and the white business community was going down. They had gone to the four ladies, and tried to pay their bail, but they wouldn't come out [of jail]. I don't know how good the resolution was, but it went on and on.
I was most proud that night, one the deacon's corner is a position, is a place of power, in the Baptist church you're not supposed to have these sanctified places especially, but the deacon's corner says something special. It said something to me as a kid that this is our house, this is our place and others were visitors. We're not going to give up this spot to whites, but they could come and visit. They could sit in the congregation, but whites were not going to sit there, and not going to sit in the pulpit. I mean, it was just a — they could sit in the choir. For some reason, they put them over there.
Okay and they asked that we stop the boycott and that we encourage the ladies to accept their offer to pay the bail, pay the bond or something like that, but the ladies didn't. So, at some point the ladies come out of jail and all.
But it was still not all over, the ladies had made a national statement. They had made a statement to test the Voting Rights Act. I don't know whether it was some court order or something that followed them, but it did end.
[The four women were released by order of a Federal judge who also ordered the end of segregated voting lines and booths.]
After the Protests
After that, we hit 1966 and '67 and '68 and then '69 and '70. A lot was going on in Americus and on the state and national scene from college massacres [at Jackson State and Kent State] to the birth of other freedom movements like the women's movement, disabled persons movement, apartheid on so on. And it's true after '65 we have no more direct demonstrations in Americus or anything.
I: Schools became integrated.
BF: Schools became assimilated, but no more marches, no more marches.
I: When I was talking with [inaudible] this morning, she was saying, you know, her memory as much, in addition to the marches and the mass meetings, the ways in which people on an individual basis began taking a stand and rejected being placed in second class.
BF: Things started happening, Mr. Frank Wiley, Jr. and I were talking about, you know, where I worked at A. Cohen and Sons with Mr. Jerome Cohen and Mr. A. Ferd Cohen and Frank worked at The Vogue with Mr. Jack Moss. We started talking about who was the first one to run the cash register. I distinctly remember that Miss Ray Jean Lanier was hired by the Piggy Wiggly Store. It comes to me now that the Colonial Store and the Winn Dixie Stores had been the foci of most of the demonstrations. I complemented her on it one day and she said, "Oh, I don't talk about that no more." But Ray Jean Lanier was the first black cashier that Piggly Wiggly hired, and by being the first black cashier that Piggly Wiggly hired it was an honor in the black community. Miss Ray Jean was a black cashier at Piggly Wiggly on Lee Street. I don't know if it was near the boycott time or not. It would be interesting to see. When you went to a Piggly Wiggly store, all the black people lined up to be rung out by Ray Jean. They nearly worked that lady to death!
I: That's funny.
BF: I remember distinctly seeing the white cashiers standing at the cash registers with their arms folded and watching these long lines of black shoppers, and it wasn't because we were made to go to the black cashier line. Blacks were so proud, we were so proud to have a black cashier. They liked to work that lady to death.
I: How about when Spoke 'n Span came on the police force?
BF: Yes, one of the talents, or one of the effective ways, one of the things that works in Americus is that in many cases politically, political system for whites will usurp oncoming black civil rights advancement. The integration of the police department, the integration of the fire department, and the integration of the police department was a farce, but later on they got better. The whites in business, and it might have been the same with the cashier thing, before being told they will do something, before being ordered they will do something. Okay, this is happening, this is going on.
It's kind of like that Paul "Bear" Bryant story, that Paul "Bear" Bryant wouldn't let black boys play football at the University of Alabama until somebody beat him, and he said, "I'm going to get me one of them, one of them tomorrow," and they have had a black boy running the ball since. Well Americus is no different in terms of city council, it is said that my cousin and the other man were primarily elected by the white electorate.
I: This was —
BF: Lowe and Cooper. That they were primarily elected, city elected, and elected by the white community. The black community was very much dissatisfied with them for a long time. They used to talk about them a lot. The same thing with Spoke 'n Span, the police officers were hired, the black officers to degree, to what degree they had been fully trained I don't know. They had guns and they used them. They had billy clubs, and they used them, and when they walked on Cotton Avenue into a saloon or juke joint, they tell me the juke box would stop playing. They were feared. They drove down the street, people would turn their lights and radios off because they almost had carte blanche in the black community, whooping heads, threatening, intimidating. They probably were some nice old guys who thought they were doing police work, they were policemen, but you know they were just what the whites wanted, you know. Ya'll want some black police officers? We'll get you some black police officers.
BF: You know, but they were, they were just some nice, some nice uneducated, untrained men. You focused in, let's see, is at some point a retired Army Captain is Eddie James McGrady...
BF: Retired from the Army and comes home, and becomes an authentic trained professional police officer. So he gets to, he begins the process of being able to arrest whites, stop whites, [as] opposed to Spoke 'n Span. They could stop whites, but they had to wait until a white officer would come deal the situation.
I: You know the same was true at the beginning of the '40's in Atlanta that then as they say if you're in trouble you call the police, you don't [inaudible]
BF: You know, that's right, until it gets to the point that you don't care
I: Actually, you know, initial times that Lorena was telling me a story, where it was at Moses' at the Vogue that she chose not to go anymore into the dressing room where the black girls had to go where the black seamstresses were. At that time and that was like her moment of rebellion, you know and can you recall like, you know, when as a kid began to take a stand, you know, and —
BF: Yeah, this granddaddy used to take me and my sisters to town Willie...
I: Mr. Linder.
BF: Yeah, I embarrassed him in front of some white folk one time, and he hit me. I didn't know the Nassau family; I guess they were from Lebanon or somewhere.
I: Oh really.
BF: The Nassau's owned the store on the corner of Lee and Forsyth.
Mr. Ellias Attayah owned the store on Forsyth and was busy with pecans, of pecan, and had a multi-million dollar pecan operation in the middle of the block. I liked Mr. Attayah's store better [inaudible ] big pecan sacks just — it was just a bustle of activity. But Mr. Nassau's store was more quiet, nobody ever went in there, you know, just kind of regular. Well, I didn't have sense enough to understand that Big Daddy had a charge account at the Nassau's, and he would take us to town on Saturday and I would get a little treat, you know, and my oldest sister she went off and got a soda and a honey bun whatever. My other little sister she selected her stuff and they kept telling me you've got to get something here, you've got to get something here! I didn't understand why I couldn't go down to Mr. Attayah's. What I wanted was down at Mr. Attayah's, Mr. Ellias' place. Mr. Nassau didn't have what I wanted, whatever it was, it was cookie, soda, or whatever, you know. I made a big deal out of it and thinking back now what I did was put Big Daddy in a bad position. I probably opened my mouth. I probably said something like I don't want anything in this store, you know, I don't want nothing here and then that man probably looked at me like, you know, smart aleck little black boy over there, and all I know is that Big Daddy didn't get me anything cause he needed to put it on the ticket.
BF: My sisters got stuff, but when we walked out of the store, I don't know what I said and what I did, but he came from behind me literally, and lifted me off the pavement with one snap. Of course, when I got home to Big Mama, you know, he didn't do that again cause Big Mama did not allow that.
BF: I do remember that as a young kid, whether that's defiant or just stupid, didn't know any better to whether that defines civil rights or not, I'm not sure.
[I]: We were talking this morning how actually really great that would be to document the numerous hundreds of little individual episodes that began to kind of snowball during this period of time. Remember the Martin [inaudible]? I mean the arrest of the Martin [inaudible].
Were you ever arrested?
BF: No, I wasn't arrested for civil rights activity.
I: Was your sister arrested?
BF: No, we weren't allowed to participate at that level.
I: She was the first to desegregate Georgia Southwestern University wasn't she?
[Georgia Southwestern College — today, Georgia Southwestern State University — is located in Americus.]
BF: My sister, Andrea Pearlette Fuse and one of the voting line ladies, Mrs. Mary Kate Fish Bell were first to graduate with degrees. They had gone away to college the first two years somewhere else and they had come back and finished their education at Georgia Southwestern College. My other sister, Lillie LaVette Fuse was the first to be accepted for admission but she did not enroll at that time. and Theresa Mansfield was the first full four-year entry and graduate of Southwestern.
I: Was there any, how did that proceed?
BF: It wasn't bad for Mary Kate and my older sister, because they both were so smart. I know for my sister, if somebody did something to her she would probably laugh and grin or hug them, she is just that way.
I: What's her name?
BF: Andrea Pearlette Fuse. Pearlette is such a loving person, you know, she and my other sister, LaVette, the one that took me in the white bathroom. LaVette came home one day, and she was a college student out there. She came home one day and somebody had written the word "nigger" on her desk, and the way that woman was acting; I thought she had lost her mind. I mean she was tearing the house up. She was fussing at my mom.
For me at Americus High school, having "nigger" written on your desk was a very, very minor insult (laughs). I mean we are dodging spit balls and anything else, food and stuff, but that was the difference [between] the level of college and public school. She was livid. Somebody had written the word "nigger" on her desk and she was livid. I said, "Okay calm down, you will get through it." She was also the first to integrate the college choir, and travel abroad with the choir.
We are fortunate to have had that opportunity. I don't know when I had first had that kind of experience. I cant' think of anything phenomenal happening except for a field trip to Atlanta to see Romeo and Juliet at Symphony Hall with my English teacher and her husband, Mr. and Mrs. Robert (Gladys) Crabb.
I: It's hard; I mean people don't realize how hard it was for
Elections & Politics
Elections & Politics
BF: I may have done something, I'm sure I did something. I was more of the one, especially Phil Merritt and I, were the ones who went in the Windsor Hotel, 63, or 64, during the Lyndon B. Johnson campaign. We were two little seventh grade boys who went up there to Ms. Lillian Carter and got the bumper stickers, "Vote for LBJ," and the little ten gallon hat that Lyndon B. Johnson had, and took them back to school and gave them out. That was that kind of thing we would have done.
I: So Lillian Carter was?
BF: I believe Mrs.Lillian Carter was the local campaign person for LBJ, and whoever it was, it was a white haired woman, and I want to say in the round part of the Windsor Hotel second floor. That was Johnson's headquarters.
I: Something about voting for Goldwater?
BF: Right, Goldwater was big; oh he was big in Middle South Georgia. He was big in Macon for some reason. I remember that.
I: Do you remember C.B. King's congressional race in '64, he ran for Congress?
BF: I remember a lot of their races, I remember Mr. Sam Weston running for mayor.
I: Had the soda shop, yeah? He would run for mayor.
BF: He would run for mayor and city council. I don't remember the congressional race, I remember the gubernatorial race, when [Jimmy] Carter would run, very interesting isnt it. Carter and C.B. would run.
I: You mentioned before, Maynard Jackson's campaign against U.S. Senator Herman Talmadge in '68.
BF: 1968, [five] years before Maynard runs [for Mayor of Atlanta]. Then Sen.Talmadge started having trouble, because nobody ever looked at him, he did some changing, he changed. He still had best constituent service office, but divorce and his wife kind of messed him up. He would have been there a long time.
I: They say one of the reasons that people throw away a ballot is Mr. J. Frank Myers became mayor replacing Mr. T. Griffin Walker as mayor, I guess it's about seventy or something.
BF: Yes. You've got a lot of strange politics going on with the white people. Two of the most important men in General Assembly of Georgia were from Americus and had been for last fifteen to twenty years. Now they're out of power now, cause of the Republican Party coup d'etat. State Representative Jimmy Skipper and Dean of the State Senate George Hooks wielded a lot of power, but before them, and I hope you get a chance to talk to Mr. William Murray, because Bill has a very interesting slant on history too.
I: Who is he?
BF: Attorney Bill Murray. You need to devote a good bit of time to him. He replaced the honorable Janet Merritt. Janet Merritt was one of first women to serve as a state representative in the Georgia General Assembly from Americus, Georgia. Mrs. Janet Merritt was also first person to formally object to the Confederate emblem being on the state flag. It did not start recently, it started with Mrs. Janet, and I guess she raised such a fuss, that the good old boys down here decided Janet was too liberal. She was one of those inviting folks to her home, like Koinonia and other blacks. So you get labeled and branded and blah, blah, but she was a wonderful politician, and a good friend to me. I enjoyed talking with her, even as a college student, a lot of times about politics in Georgia and getting her advice about a lot of things. She gave me a lot of advice.
[ Koinonia Farm in rural Sumter County was (and still is) an interracial community that supported human rights for people of all races.]
I: Where did you go to college?
BF: I attended Morehouse College in Atlanta, and then Michigan State University in East Lansing. Politics is a funny thing; it's funny how you can be in on the white community today and out. There was a State Representative named Oliver Oxford, I think he was a state representative.
I: Dixon Oxford?
BF: He was a state representative. He was up here and all of a sudden they didn't want to have anything else to do with him. Mr. Warren Fortson suggested that if we had a bi-racial council, we could end the demonstrations and the racial discord and they ran him out of town. All he did was suggest that black people and white people sit at the table and discuss the issues and they ran that man out of town. Now, they didn't just run a man out of town, this man was the county attorney, he was independently wealthy as a lawyer, and he had been a Sunday School teacher at First Methodist. His brother was the Secretary of State of the State of Georgia. A powerful white man, and yet they ran him out of town, he became the attorney for school board in Atlanta and I use to talk to him often.
They did the same thing to keep Kentucky Fried Chicken from opening its first Kentucky Fried Chicken out there on US 19, because they did not close on Wednesday. The stores in Americus used to close at twelve on Wednesday, and at six o'clock in the evening the rest of the week. None of this twenty-four hour stuff or being open on Sunday stuff when I came up. I remember going to Atlanta to the West End and seeing the Sears & Roebuck store, the sign on the side said open 'til nine. Kentucky Fried Chicken met a lot of resistance, they put it out there on the curb on US 19 where it is right now, but they didn't want it here, they didn't want any outside franchises here. They didn't want Interstate 75 coming through here. I'm kind of glad of that one.
BF: When I look at crime, the murders, and the drugs that wind up in Cordele and along Interstate 75. I'm kind of glad they didn't do that one. Let it be over there.
I: Did the whole Carter thing open up things at all?
BF: Jimmy Carter?
BF: For Plains it did wonders, didn't mean very much over here. The President doesn't — you didn't hear the President talking about Americus. Only thing the President talked about was Plains, even though — even after he became President of the United States, but he doesn't talk a lot about Americus.
I: All right, let's — do you want to say anything more about Carter?
BF: Well, again the politics, the networking of the black community in Atlanta and in Americus, because you see Mr. Carter was "Jimmy who?" Even though he had some exposure nationally as the up-in-coming New South governor, non-left to matters. He wasn't that much non-left to matters back in those days, he was just, he smiled. So he still needed some local blacks to tell some other blacks, he's okay, he's great. So he needed some black people from Americus to go around the country and peanut brigade too, and say look, he isn't a left politico to matter. He's not, he's decent.
He needed some black people from Atlanta also. Now remember, Atlanta blacks could networking cross the country — Morehouse and Morris Brown College, the Greek lettered fraternities the Alphas and Omegas all over the world. So, when Rev. Andrew J. Young and Mr. John Cox, Rev. Fred C. Bennett — they didn't really get to know Carter until the end of his gubernatorialship. Blacks in Atlanta didn't have that much when Carter was governor. But then toward the end when he started talking Presidential talk, he starts dealing with Andy Young and Maynard and Mr. Jesse Hill and so forth.
I: Daddy King?
["Daddy King" refers to Martin Luther King's father. In the 1960s, he was the senior pastor of the influential Ebenezer Baptist Church in Atlanta.]
BF: I'm going to mention Daddy King in a minute. If it wasn't for Daddy King, he might not have been President of the United States. I can say unequivocally even though he — I don't see this stuff in his memoirs, but I'm going to share something with you that I know firsthand. See Governor Jimmy Carter was the first President elected from the Deep South since Reconstruction. Others had run, Dixiecrats had run in 1948, they couldn't elect a Southerner, and as [Congressman and Senator] Trent Lott said out loud, "There would have been a different story today, the country wouldn't have these problems." He said out loud what many whites think and feel today, and he meant it, and he voiced the sentiment of a large number of people.
Carter was chairman of the school board when my mother worked out at West Side Elementary School. She was very close with the principal there, Mrs. Floyd. Mrs. Floyd had graduated from Columbia University, a black woman; she lived across the street from Jimmy Carter. So, I was always fond of saying, "Well you know he can't be too bad since black families are living across the street, in a white neighborhood in Plains."
I remember I was a freshman at Morehouse getting ready to come home one vacation, he was governor. Mrs. Floyd died and my mother was in Atlanta for some convention, she was going to give me a ride home, but she had to leave me, because Mrs. Floyd died. She talked to the governor and he said, "Well, go home, and help get the funeral, get it all fixed up and don't worry about a thing." She came by the college and I said, "Why are you leaving so early?." She said, "I've got to go home, the governor sent me home for the funeral."
I remember the day he and Judge T.O. Marshall had all the black religious leaders, all the black church people, and all the white church people together at First Baptist Church. I remember that some blacks were very leery about going out, because they didn't know if this was a trap. Carter and Judge Marshall were chairmen of some sort [of] Billy Graham crusade, whatever year.
We went out and my mother bless her heart — no one wanted to take Rev. Emory Smith, one of our Associate Pastors, because Rev. Smith had an ailment in his prostrate, and he exhumed a great foul odor, and people being the way they are, everybody — He was a genius at the bible, he had been up North in Ohio most of his life, and his sisters were also great Bible scholars, the Pascal Sisters. Nobody at church wanted to be bothered with him that day. Pastor Smith just stood on the sidewalk waiting for a ride, but I remember my momma saying, "Rev. Smith you can ride with us," I said, "why are you taking this stinking man out here to these white folk, let him go home."
We went in the back door of the First Baptist Church, and there's T.O. Marshall and his grand white hair, and Jimmy Carter, with that smile. They were talking about bringing the Billy Graham Crusade to town or something, but it was a moment in history. We just didn't know what we were doing out there, and black people just went anyway, even my pastor who was very, very much moderate. I enjoyed that, I guess what — what made me think Carter was pretty fair. I think this was before he ran for governor, might have been a State Senator then, was the way he treated Rev. Smith.
Of course, my mother sat on the front row. I'll never forget this, and there I sat on the front row, and my mother and Rev. Smith and his older sister, and Senator Carter sat on a piano bench. Throughout this hour or two-hour long meeting, any time somebody says a bible verse, Rev. Smith verbalized it in a whisper. Just like it says in John 3:16, he knew the whole thing. There was no verse, he did not know verbatim. Mr. Carter was sitting over there, and after a while Carter leaned over to me, he said, "Who is the man sitting next to you." I said, "That's the Assistant Pastor of Friendship Baptist Church, Rev. Emory Smith." I didn't know what he wanted with the information. I was proud to tell him who he was, because he had recognized something. He said, "Who's that man," that's all he said, "Who's that man."
When the program was about to end, Mr. Carter said, "I've been noticing a man and I want him to give us our closing prayer." He had not said anything to Rev. Smith for him to get ready, he had not said a word, he just asked Rev. Smith to come up. I was so glad that Rev. Smith just stood up and prayed just like — didn't fix it up, didn't change it, but prayed just like he would have in any black church. It taught me a lesson about, if this God thing is real, this got to be real, it can't shift for form and for fashion and for a show, this got be the same thing all of the time. Rev. Smith was a great student of Jesus of the Bible, and he prayed and there wasn't a dry eye in the place when he got finished, not a dry eye, and I'm glad my momma took him, I'm glad my momma took me.
I: That's a great story.
BF: I began then to respect Brother Carter and his mother, Miss Lillian was somehow involved with that too. Later on my path crossed with State Representative Janet Meritt, and while at Morehouse, I would go to the capitol and visit Mrs. Merritt at the capitol.
The Daddy King story is — My mother had been the first black counselor at Georgia Southwestern College and Rev. Carl Wilson followed, another man came in before him and Rev. Carl Wilson holds that position now. But anyway when Mr. Carl Wilson got the position he called me in Atlanta and wanted to start Martin Luther King, Jr. Day celebration at the college. He called me, because he wanted me to come speak.
I was working as the first Director of Youth Programs at the Martin Luther King, Jr. Center for Nonviolent Social Change. Well I was very busy developing the MLK Youth Clubs and the Kingean Nonviolence Curriculum with King Center, and I wasn't going to try to wear myself out to try to come down. So, I said, "I tell you what I'll do; I'll try to get you a speaker." So, I got a speaker, the speaker was Dr. Martin Luther King, Sr. Sargent Eddie James McGrady met us out at Columbus Airport, and brought us down and Daddy King was speaker. Now Daddy King had only come to speak on black history, and he gets up there and he says something to the effect of, "I'm glad to be here with Bob Fuse and he brought me into his house, and we been looking for some rabbits. I'm also glad to be here in my home town of my very good friend Jimmy Carter."
That was all he said. Glad to be here to talk to you students about blah, blah, blah. The next day the newspapers reported that Daddy King endorses Carter for President. The papers, Associated Press and other national services went out and said Rev. King had endorsed Gov. Carter. That was the way they played it. So, whenever time, that would have been February. We were down here for Black History Month or Martin Luther King Day. That plays out and Carter is getting steam, black people were making and receiving calls in Atlanta calling all black people across the country. Mayor Jackson is calling Mr. Willie Brown, [Assemblyman] Willie Brown in California. You can imagine them all calling cross-country. Everybody calling across the country, telling everybody, okay this is how, this is our man, this is Jimmy Carter, and he leads all these primaries.
Mr. Carter went I think it must have been up North, probably in New York or Illionis where one would be concerned about this phrase "ethnic purity of neighborhoods." He said something about he would fight as President to maintain the "ethnic purity of neighborhoods". I want to say Chicago, because I think about [Martin Luther] King and what he said about the violence he faced there. Mr. Carter said something about preserving this "ethnic purity of neighborhoods." That thing cut cross the country and folks start calling John Cox, Maynard Jackson, Mrs. Coretta King and others in Atlanta saying, "You told me he was different." Many were not sure or knew what he was talking about. He didn't mean it the way it sounded. Still wasn't going well, and Mayor Jackson was leading the charge in Atlanta to drop Carter. Mayor Jackson had done so much with integrating the neighborhoods now in Atlanta. Somehow or another they came to some kind of agreement with Mr. John Cox running between the Carter Campaign and the Mayor's Office and Daddy King wound up speaking at a rally in Central City Park hugging Mr. Carter.
That's the picture on the campaign buttons, Daddy King and Jimmy Carter in his grasp, where after Rev. King, Sr. had said something to the audience about, "Show me a man that never made a mistake." Those was Daddy King's words, and Daddy King could say that and it would shoot that cross the country and people responded, and the black vote went back to the Carter campaign and we were able to elect him President of the United States. I think there could have been a different outcome if we hadn't had a Daddy King. I don't know if any other leader could've stood up there and said that. After all you shifted black political power to Atlanta that once was in California. But Daddy King had a national pull and as grand old preacher. I think that contributed greatly to the continuation of Carter's success towards Presidency.
I: Were there black Sumter County Peanut Brigades?
[Before winning political office, Jimmy Carter was a peanut farmer. When he ran for president his army of volunteer campaigners were dubbed the "Peanut Brigade."]
BF: Yes, I understand there was. I was — where was I? In Atlanta — yes.
I: So you were at the King Center at the time?
BF: Let's see, that would have been 1976.
BF: Yes, because he went in government in '77. His gubernatorialship
was the same as my college days. I was in East Lansing, Michigan the
following year. So, his election year, I would have been in East Lansing.
I: Let's wind up. Last question. You know from when you were a child in Americus say '40 —
BF: I really want to find one of these incidents when I first did something myself.
I: Well, this is a summary kind of question. How much has changed, how much has remained the same since 1963 — the last 40 years in American History. The degree and nature of change, or —
BF: Well you've got, you've got a lot of change, in some ways. South Lee Street is still a state highway and North Lee Street is not. So the curve, the pavement is different. The residences are different. There's not enough — desire, interest in education as there once was on both sides. There are too many people unrefined, uneducated, illiterate, and don't know in comparison to what this place use to be like. We have fewer black people going to college out of this town than when we were segregated, few students go to places like Morehouse, Spelman College and other places; whites too.
So, what does that mean, that means you can't bring in an appropriate piece of entertainment that enough people will go pay for at the Rylander. So you lose the Rylander, because you don't have enough paying intelligence to use it, and that's where it's all the same. If we don't figure out a way in Americus and Sumter County, in Georgia, and in this country, to deal forthright with racism, poverty, and hatred, I don't know what's going to become of us. At the bottom of everything that's wrong, and everything that's right in this country lies racism, and racial prejudice, poverty and war.
We could be better. No, you don't see any "colored," "white" signs on the water fountain, no. But it seems like I see it everywhere, no one can build a $200,000 house, where one can earn enough money to build a $200,000 house. No, they don't beat us up at the courthouse anymore. They don't pour paint on the black lawyer's car, but as we consider a United States Senate race, yes, Congressman Sanford Bishop would be great, but he's black. We're still in that same racial mode. We're still in a racial mode within the school system. It's so much that has changed, I mean you know, but it hasn't. This past summer I watched, and told my friends on the recreation board, I say, "Why is it that one time of the day the pool is all white, and the other part of the day it's all black." So, in a nutshell, a lots changed, a lot hasn't, but it'll get better one day, it'll be better one day.
We Shall Overcome.
Copyright © Bobby Fuse. 2003