Excerpts from an interview of Gloria Jean Tucker conducted by Cheryl Janice Johnson, in 2022.
My name is Gloria Jean Tucker. I was born April 14, 1946 in Batesville, Mississippi, Panola County in Chapel Town Community. I was my parents first born child and was delivered in Batesville Hospital.
In 1961 I started High School at South Panola Training High School. My parents attended the Freedom Democratic Party Meetings in Batesville, Mississippi.
In 1964, COFO (Council of Federated Organizations) launched the Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party. A chapter was located in Batesville, Panola County where I lived. In Panola County voter registration drive begin in 1959. Black people in Panola County filed a law suit against the Circuit Clerk, Ike Shankle, for the right to vote.
The Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party filed a lawsuit so Black people could vote. My dad, Mr. Earl Tucker, Rev. Godfrey Middleton, Mr. Willie Harrison, Mr. Robert Miles, Mr. C.J. Williams, Mr. Jasper Williams filed the lawsuit. They won the lawsuit. The US Department of Justice came to Batesville and took depositions at the Johnson College so Black people could testify about their experience trying unsuccessfully to vote. I went to the College that day. The place was crowded and there were so many people there I could only look through the window while Black people testified of the harrowing experiences they endured while trying to vote. Some were put out of their homes
The Black people in Panola County won the right to vote before President Johnson signed the Voting Rights Act of 1965 into a law because the brave Black men in Panola County filed a lawsuit and won the right for Black people in Batesville, Panola County to vote.
In an article in The Nation Magazine entitled, The "Mississippi Challenge," written by George Slaff, you can read about some of the terrifying things Black people in Panola County faced when they attempted to vote. These are some of the things they faced: intimidation, harassment, economic reprisal, property damage, terrorization, violence and illegal and unconstitutional registration procedures."
To prevent Black people from voting, the state of Mississippi required Black people to interpret the Mississippi State Constitution. Whites were not required to interpret the Constitution. Black people went to school to learn to interpret the Constitution. Even after studying the Mississippi Constitution Black people would try to register and they would be humiliated and told they failed the test. If they lived on a plantation, others were threatened with job loss.
In 1964 I became involved in Freedom Summer. In Batesville, Mississippi, Panola County. We organized our first nation-wide voter registration campaign to register Black people to vote. The Voting Rights Act passed a year later in 1965.
In 1964 I was 18 years old and a senior in high school. It was understood I was going to be involved because my parents were involved. I participated in the first voter registration campaign in my town. I went door to door registering Black people to vote. That summer I helped to register more Black people to vote than had ever registered in Panola County.
In 1964 the students boycotted my high school, South Panola Training School. I participated in the boycott. We left school and refused to go back until our demands were met.
We made 10 demands. The white officials asked us to take the word "demand" out and we refused. Some of the things we demanded were new books. In the past we were assigned old hand me down books from the white school. There was no place to put our name because the books were so old. We demanded: new typewriters, new projectors, TV in each class, a foreign language be taught, new buses — our buses were old and ragged, and broke down enroute to school — change the name of the school, our school was called a "Training School" and we changed it to Patton Lane High School, new lab equipment, and 9 months of schooling with no split session. Before, we had to leave school twice during the school year, once in the spring, and the fall, to help on the farm. This was time we lost from school and did not get a full year of education.
All 10 of our demands were met because we DEMANDED these things. We could not have gotten them by asking for them. As a result of our success, our confidence grew, our mindset changed. When we had community meetings the house would be packed. People were involved and committed.
Also, when I was in high school, all of the cafes and things downtown was segregated and no Blacks were able to go to the cafes to eat, sit down and have meal to eat. We had sit-ins at different restaurants in Batesville. A lot of teenagers were arrested and jailed during the sit-ins. I happened to be away on the day of the sit-ins so I did not participate.
After high school I attended Mississippi Valley State University, Itta Bena Mississippi. I attended Michigan State University, Flint, Michigan, and I attended 'Ole Miss Law School PRECEPT Program through North Mississippi Rural Legal Services. Ultimately, I graduated Agape Bible Seminary School. I was employed with North Mississippi Rural Legal Services. (NMRLS) as a Paralegal. I provided free civil legal representation to low-income people. I received the Most Effective Paralegal Award. I married and had 2 children.
I left Batesville in 1990 and I moved to Flint, Michigan. I lived there for 27 years. I went there with my own business selling women's clothing and accessories. I also worked as a car saleswoman for three years.
I returned home to Batesville in 2017 and nothing had changed or improved while I was gone. When I returned everything was just like it was when I left. No government money was spent in Black neighborhoods for 30 years.
Since moving back to Batesville, I have encouraged young people to attend all civic meetings and board of supervisor meeting. I teach them to get involved to speak up and speak out. I go to government meetings and put my name on the agenda. If they say something they shouldn't, I speak up.
I knew I would work with the NAACP when I returned home. The NAACP President, Julius Harris, became disabled and I became his successor. I was elected President of NAACP. I tried to get others to take the position but nobody wanted to step up and be a leader, so I ended up elected to the position.
Many Black people believe you have to ask for permission to do things. They make no demands on their elected officials. They give away their vote and expect nothing in return. It is time to make things happen, not let things happen. I see slow changes in our City of Batesville government. Today 42 elected positions are held by Black People. The Tax Assessor and Collector is Odell Draper, a Black man.
My vision for the NAACP is to fight discrimination. We are still fighting for the right to vote, to motivate people to fight for their rights, to train people to be leaders. I convinced a lady to run for Chancellor Clerk. I encourage people to come out of their comfort zone. I encourage young people to carry this vision further. We are fighting forward to make things better. We are still fighting for the same things we were 50 years ago. We want to groom people to take leadership positions. We are pushing for change in our town.
Copyright © Gloria Jean Tucker & Cheryl Janice Johnson. 2022
See 1964 Mississippi
Freedom Summer for background & more information.
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