Hattie & James White

[Hattie & James White were active in the St. Augustine Movement of 1963-1964.]

Hartford: So how did you all get started, get involved in the Movement?

Hattie White: Well, it began with sit-ins. One of my sons, — who was only 14 at the time, — came home, and he had been to a meeting down at St Paul's church or the Elks on Washington Street that day, and the next day he said he was going to a sit-in at the drug store. I didn't want him to go. I said, "No." I said, "It might put you in jail," because I knew they had put some of those students in jail. And he said, "Oh, no, mother, they ain't gonna put us in jail." And I said, "Well, I hope not," and I gave him some money and they went on and had a sit-in, and 16 young people got arrested.

Hartford: What year was that?

Hattie White: '63.

Hartford: And who had called the meeting? How did the meeting happen?

Hattie White: Oh, well, Dr. Hayling, you know he got us all organized.

Hartford: How did you feel about having your son do this?

James White: Well, he said he wanted to stay [in jail]. There were some more along with him, and the parents was going to let them stay, but after they got [pressured] then they went backing out, they didn't want to stay.

Hattie White: What happened, the judge wanted us to sign them out [of jail], and promise that we would never allow them to demonstrate anymore. Well, I knew that was wrong, but after they was arrested we went out to the jail and we told all the children about it, and four parents did not agree to [forbid their children to demonstrate] unless their children wanted to. Neither one of the children wanted to agree to that. And my boy, being the youngest of the four, I said, "No, you're too young. I'm just going to just go ahead and sign you out," and he begged me not to. He begged me not to, so I wouldn't do it. But the other parents signed their children out.

Hartford: How long was he in jail?

Hattie White: I don't know exactly how long, but I think it was something like about three weeks before they sent him to reform school. It may have been longer than that.

Hartford: And how long was he in reform school?

Hattie White: Six months.

Hartford: Six months. And all they had done was sit at...

Hattie White: That was at Woolworth's.

Hartford: At Woolworth's. What happened after that, with you and the Movement?

Hattie White: We were all into it then. The whole family got involved. My other children...

Hartford: Were they older or younger?

Hattie White: I had one older, and he was a sickly child, he had asthma. In fact that's why he wasn't down there with them that day, because he was sick with the asthma. But anyway, he got involved after they went to jail, my son under him went to jail. And all the younger ones, they integrated the schools. We just got involved in every way. My two girls, they integrated the church, along with a white lady that came down, I think she came down from Boston, Massachusetts.

Hartford: Mrs. Peabody?

Hattie White: No, she came down too from Boston, Massachusetts, but this lady's name was Cainwright. They demonstrated with her.

Hartford: Were they arrested for going to the church?

Hattie White: No, they was not arrested, but they was stoned at, spit at, cursed. Tompkins was down there, was taking the pictures, the deacons of the church would not allow them to come in. But since then, this past year, the church called a meeting with all of them and apologized.

Hartford: Good for them.

James White: And asked us to forgive them.

Hartford: When did the marches start?

Hattie White: In '63.

Hartford: Did you participate yourself?

Hattie White: Oh yes. We participated, went to jail.

Hartford: You were arrested too?

Hattie White: Yes, twice.

Hartford: What were you arrested for?

Hattie White: I was arrested for wanting to go in to, — what was the name of that restaurant? — Marty's, that's what I was arrested for. And the next time was out on the march.

Hartford: Tell people what it was like to be on those marches. What happened?

Hattie White: It was terrible. A lot of people got beat up. I was one. All of us got hurt.

James White: You know the old Slave Market, down there? Well, we would go around there. I'd been in the service, in WWII, 92nd Infantry Division, and it sounded like we was in a war over there. People throwing bricks and the stuff and that.

Hartford: Who was throwing the bricks?

Hattie White: The white people.

James White: That was them Klans, and their friends. We had a couple of [our folk] who got near to the Klan meeting and they beat them up pretty good.

Hattie White: We got our house smoke bombed.

Hartford: Were you [James] also arrested?

James White: Oh yeah.

Hattie White: He was arrested, I think about five times. But he did not lose his job, because he was working for the government. A government job. But I lost my job.

James White: I worked for the Fairchild Aircraft Company.

Hartford: What was your [Hattie's] job?

Hattie White: As a presser. And I lost my job.

Hartford: A clothes cleaning presser? And they fired you for that?

Hattie White: Yes. They wanted me to promise that I wouldn't demonstrate no more, and I told them I couldn't do that. I found out they had sent my child to reform school, — they didn't notify us or nothing. But my mother would always go out there every morning and take my son food, because he wouldn't eat that food out there [in the jail]. And she went out there that morning, but he wasn't there. They told her that they had sent him to reform school. So she came up to me on my job, crying, and told me. I was so stunned I couldn't even speak. I walked off. And when I did go back I was terminated. It was a terrible thing.

Hartford: Where was the reform school?

Hattie White: They sent the boys to Marianna. That's West Florida, near Tallahassie.

Hartford: Oh, that's a long ways away.

Hattie White: It was a long ways away. And they sent the girls to Ocala.

Hartford: That's also a long way away.

Hattie White: It is.

Hartford: How many children were sent to reform school?

Hattie White: Just the four. My son and another boy and the two girls. We were the four parents that didn't sign for our kids to never demonstrate no more. Because that would have been taking away their rights, and we couldn't do that.

Hartford: What happened with all the children who were arrested later, in other times? Were they also sent to reform school?

Hattie White: No, because the parents would sign them out.

Hartford: They had to promise not to demonstrate?

Hattie White: I don't know whether they promised that or not. I know that was the case with us.

Hartford: How did you feel about it? Your children are being arrested, — you are parents, — what did you think about your children participating in that?

Hattie White: It was terrible, I tell you, it was terrible. It was just a sad thing. I thought about it, now here he [James] is, already been to war, fighting for the country, got all these medals including the Purple Heart, got wounded over there Europe, come back and be treated like dirt. And I just was more determined than ever. And then our son had to be treated like that. Just for wanting a hamburger.

Hartford: Were you in France?

James White: No, I was in Italy. I was over there by near Pisa. Laid up in the hospital, I could look out and see the Leaning Tower of Pisa.

Hartford: What about registering to vote? Were Black people prevented from registering to vote here?

Hattie White: No, but I know during that time they didn't want us to vote. But there wasn't nothing they could do, we voted anyway. They couldn't stop us. [Florida did not systematically deny voting rights to Blacks the way that states like Alabama, Georgia, Misssissippi, and Louisiana did.]

James White: During the time [in the Army] when I was stationed out in Arizona for desert training, my sister had passed, and they sent me a telegram, — I think Sunday, — and I didn't get it until next Thursday. But I didn't go in the next day to catch the bus, I had to wait until all the work would get over first, and I missed the bus and I didn't get home time enough for the funeral.

Hattie White: Knowing that hurt him.

James White: See, everything then was segregated. In Atlanta, I got on the bus there with my uniform and all on, [and they told me] "Man, you got to sit in the back seat, you got to get back there now."

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