[Provided courtesy of the Who Speaks for the Negro?" archives, Robert Penn Warren Center for the Humanities at Vanderbilt University. See Joe Carter for background information, the original transcripts, and streaming audio version of this interview. Note that this is a typed transcript created in 1964 from the audio tape. Some errors in the original transcript have been corrected, others have not been corrected. To ensure accuracy, researchers should consult the audio recordings available at the URL listed above. Time stamps are included in the retyped transcripts to aid in this process.]
|Lolis Elie: Race, Race Consciousness & Black Muslims|
|Rev. Joe Carter: Arrested for Attempting to Register to Vote in Lousiana|
|Rev. Joe Carter: Registering to Vote — Second Attempt|
Warren: ...the hatred of being, the self-hatred of being Negroes to the point of a constant violence against other Negroes.
Carter? Elie? Well, I would imagine that —
Warren: ...an extreme case.
Carter? Elie? Yes, well, I would imagine that this would be an unconscious reaction, but what I'm suggesting was that for example in New Orleans that Negroes who are of fair skin, they have attempted, consciously and unconsciously, again, to create, as it were, a community, a kind of thinking — a false kind of thinking, because it's not based on realism.
And, the upshot of it all is the only thing that they have to base this artificial situation on is the color of their skin and the texture of their hair, which to me is not a satisfying standard, because after all we had nothing to do with it. You have no personal sense of accomplishment in being fair with light skin and when you look beyond the skin color and the hair texture and you ask, well, what have you done to justify your existence here — and — then in ninety nine cases out of a hundred there is nothing there.
Warren: Mr. Elie, what do you think of the same question put another way — and the first time I encountered this question was years ago in reading Du Bois and now it has many different formulations since. The spilt, or the possible split in the Negro mind, or the Negro's feelings — one impulse being a loyalty to the fact of being Negro, to — even to the extreme form, say, of the Black Muslim attitude — that's the extreme form of it, as opposed to the impulse to move away from it, or sometimes to — in extreme form — repudiate, to cease to be Negro, to repudiate entirely, to move away from it, to reject it — literally to part from it — this division of impulse, which in less extreme forms means some — means the loyalty to their identity as Negro, on the other hand, an impulse to integrate Negro life with American life and with the whole Western cultural tradition, as opposed to anything that might be thought especially Negro, even to the possibility of the blood absorption — the disappearance, say, of Negro as Negro — the loss in a general blood stream, as in — as a possibility.
Now some people have found it a real clash of loyalties, and some people have resolved it — there are no problems. But, it's said it was a problem for Du Bois, he discussed it at some length and for many other people since. Jim Sprague discusses it, for instance, in some length in some length in places, and [Gunnar] Myrdahl discusses it, others discuss it, in one form or another. How do you respond to that problem, Mr. Elie?
Elie: Well, I know this question is much, much broader than that of Negro versus white. I think this goes really to the basis of humanity, if you like, in that, I think everybody with any sense at all must realize that so long as we recognize differences in people, that ultimately, no matter how loathed a certain group of people, ethnically speaking, is at a given point in history, eventually ... and again, this person and this group, has been able to rise, that is, always rebellion, and somebody destroys somebody else.
I personally would like to think in terms of the world, really, therein there was no such thing as race. But, frankly, from what I have seen of the world in my thirty-four years here, I know that this isn't possible. I am closer to thinking like Muslims today than I've ever been before in my life. I started subscribing to a Muslim newspaper for the first time less than a month ago, and the reason for this is fairly simple, the reasons, rather. I had a — I was meeting this —
I was meeting with the group of white people in this city that are considered to be the power structure — the people who control the banks and the Chamber of Commerce, and this sort of thing. This went on for about two years and I was thoroughly convinced in the beginning that these were people who were sincere and who really felt that Negroes were entitled to participate fully in government and in all forms of city life. But, then I realized after a while that these people had not yet recognized Negroes as being human beings, so I now am persuaded to believe that white America, North and South, does not consider Negroes to be human beings.
I was in Washington on Monday and Tuesday and I heard in the halls of the U.S. Congress, referring to Negroes as "Niggers;" and I mean this is part and parcel of considering Negroes to be something less than human. I think this is related to the situation in Panama. I think it's related to the situation in Cuba, think it's very closely related to the situation as it existed in India under the British. I think it's related to this — what really amounts to nonsense in my opinion — about this freedom — of free nations — I think that, well, basically, it goes all the way into the very nature of man — and I might hasten to add that my ideas — the ideas that I hold now are ideas that were very alien to me prior to my participation in Civil Rights.
Warren: May I touch on something else here? I have a quotation from Dr. Kenneth Clark, a psychologist, about the nonviolence program. You may have seen them — his opinions — he's comparing the nonviolence program with the Black Muslims. This is quoting him. "On the surface, King's philosophy appears to reflect" —
Interviewee: Well, I think it's a question of Southern justice. In dealing with Southern justice, there's just no way that we can expect you, the white man to die for Negroes. In fact, some people's thinking the Negro was created a little less than the white man and this was God's way of life for the South, and with this in mind we can't very much look to the future, more definitely the present with any optimism on Southern justice.
Warren: Think you're right. The last remarks were by Danny [Ronnie?] Moore on the subject of [Byron De La] Beckwith's trial.
Warren: Now, we're supposed to be in business. We're working now, to make it clear. I hope ... belong ... what we're doing ... I'm doing a piece for Look Magazine — which will be part of a little book of interviews with Negro leaders in various parts of the country, not only South, but I've been making some in the East and Washington. I'll be going out to California, and Chicago and other places. And it will be drawn from these interviews and any interviewed person will have a typed script to correct, you see, because there'll be errors in the transcription from our... She'll make errors ... over here ... It'll be in your hands then to check and see if it's accurate. Before it's put in final form.
And the question, the primary question I'm concerned with is by discussing various topics to get some impression of the personality and where there's range of opinion. And I'll plunge into it by asking you if I may, Reverend Carter, the starting point of when and how did you get involved in the Civil Rights program, Civil Rights movement?
What you — how did you get yourself, involve yourself actively in it?
Carter: Well, I met the CORE [Congress of Racial Equality leader] Rudy Livermore [Lombard], that's his name? And Danny Moore. I met them at the Reverend A. Anderson's Church in the East Feliciana Parish, which is Jackson now, and I met them on a Thursday in August — it must have been at least the fifth, because they explained to me concerning the registering [to vote] and I told them that I had tried and that I couldn't get my neighbors to go with me, which had been about six or seven years prior to the ... We appoint a committee from the Ministers' Conference to go before the Registrar and ask him could we register. But I was the only one missed the appointment that we had to appoint this Committee.
Warren: They simply didn't turn out, is that it?
Carter: No, they didn't come up with it, so they told me then that I still done a wonder because I know that I was a citizen of the United Sates and not only our own little parish, because I was fifty-five years old and I had never been anything to go to jail, to be disenfranchised with any, but the state or the parish laws, and through these ...
I could hear over the air and on television they wanted every citizen to vote. Well, after they explained to me concerning of the vote, you know, which I wanted to do it anyway, and I was glad to lead them in out of their and enlighten them all about how to go about it. So I made an agreement with them that I would go down and ask the Registrar, but I did tell them that I didn't just want to go by myself. I would like to have somebody to go with me.
Well, at the that time there was only just me, one with them from the West Feliciana Parish, where we have another minister, Reverend Washington. He said, "Well, Reverend Davis, he wants to register." So we made an appointment with him to see Reverend Davis that day, and Reverend Davis sent me word that — to meet him in [parish seat] St. Francisville the following Thursday — that we would go to Harmon and ask to register, which we did — which he did make his arrangements with — he made arrangements for nine o'clock. He was there.
Well, a few minutes after because they had a flat, but it wasn't far enough behind the appointment for me to get disgusted and ignore him. So after we met, we went down to the Registrar's office, which Rudy and Danny wanted to go with us. I told them, "No, I don't think it will be necessary for them to go." I would rather to go by myself, you know, go before my people without having the strangers with us.
And they says, "Well, if you-all go down and you have any trouble, let us know." Well, they told us where the car would be, which we didn't see the car as they had turned. They were walking. But they told us what type of car they would drive, which was a white car. They didn't tell us what it was, but they said it had Tennessee license on it and it would be on 24-Highway, going in to Andover. So we went on down to the Registrar's office, myself and Reverend Davis, and when we go down there we parked one behind the other one. Reverend Davis parked and I pulled, I even, backed in, why couldn't nothing get between us. We parked together.
So we goes in to the Registrar's Office, and when we went in the Courthouse we didn't see nobody, we didn't hear nobody. It was just calm. Well, they didn't have any signs, you know, "Right" - "Left" — "Registrar's Office". Well, we saw the Sheriff's Office, we saw the Jury Room, and we saw the Circuit Office. Quite naturally, we had to inquire where was the Registrar's office, which was with no name on it. We walked around a little and we couldn't find the place.
There was some laborers, which were from Boyd, Kirby and from some parish town, and they had did some little something there, and them in the parish jail and had them working, on the Courthouse there. And Reverend Davis asked the boys, "We're looking for the Registrar's office. Can you tell us where it is?" And one of the boys said, "Over yonder." Well, we had already been over there, so that was surely false, and where do our people register to vote — so they couldn't say no more.
Well, there was a white man there. We said, "White folks, can you tell us where the Registrar is, please?" He said, "In there." Well, it was two doors, one like this door here and one about that distance, but he just say, "In there" — he didn't tell us no special door. So we turned round and Reverend Davis went back to the Assessor's office and asked him, so he just say, "Up there." Well, we went on up and I said, "It must be in this hall." The Reverend Davis say to me, he said, "Well, we both can't talk at the same time. And now you just listen and let me talk."
Well, we agreed on the outside to do so. Well, we still didn't see nobody, so when we went down in the little hall to see the Registrar's Office, I imagine from about here to that wall there — from the main hall — by time we got to the Registrar's door, just before we got to the door, the Registrar walked out the door and pulled it behind him and stood in front of the door. Said, "Good morning, boys, what can I do for you-all?"
Well, we spoke to him, "Morning..." So Reverend Davis said, "Well, we come to see if we could register to vote. He said, "Well, I can't appear you now, but you got to bring something. You got to show something. You got to carry something." Well, Reverend Davis turns, he says, "I really don't know what you mean, by that. You tell me what you mean, probably I can produce what it takes." He said, "Well, you got to go back home and get your two registered votes out of the ward where you live." [The above may be a reference to the "voucher" system that some southern counties & parishes imposed on African-Americans who tried to register. It required them to produce two people who were already on the voting rolls to vouch for them. Since no white would dare vouch for a Black and few, if any, were already registered it was a requirement almost impossible to meet.]
Well, at that time the High Sheriff had come down the hall and standing facing this small hall, that one right there. So Reverend Davis said, "Well, the High Sheriff knows me, and not only that — all of you knows me here." He says, "Yes, I know they call you Rudolph Davis, but I couldn't swear to it. I couldn't tell you upstairs."
As I turned, he said then I should call you, "Here boy, here boy, you boy." Well, I was looking at the Registrar you see, when he made this .call, and I turned around and I said, "You speaking to me?" He said, "Yeah, you come here." So, I turned around and went on back out to him, and when I got out just about to where he was he walked off down the hall, like he was going back to the Sheriff's Office, and he had a pencil and a card in his hand. He said, "What's your name?" I said, "Reverend Joe Carter." He attempted to write, but he made one mark.
He said, "What's the matter with you fellows? You're not satisfied?" I said, "Not exactly." He said, "Well, if you ain't, from now on you will be — you hear? You Hear?" I said, "Yes, sir." He said, "Go back where you come." I turned to go back. He said, "I ought to lock you up." Well, I didn't say anything. I just kept walking. Just before I got to the hall, anyway, he ..., "I really ought to lock you up." I didn't make him any answer.
Then he hollered to the Deputy, "Grab him, Dan, don't you hear him raising his voice at me? Consider you're under arrest." Well, I ... turned my face to him, you know. And then he searched me — started at my heels and come on up searching me. Said, "Take him out there and put handcuffs on him. Lock him up." Then .put my arm down and put it behind me. He said, "Go on out, you." Well, I went on out — take me on out to this car, facing my face cross the top of the car, and he reached in with his hands; got his handcuffs — but he still held this left arm behind, and he shook it out of his skalekl — and he locked the hand. Well, when I heard the handcuff lock, I just laid the other one back there. They locked me and put me in — told me — "Git in there."
Well, I had pulled my hat off and laid it up on the car. He took my hat and throwed in the back of the car, where I was, and there was another white man, which the other white young man, when he told Beer to grab me — they both grabbed me. So they carried me on to the jail house, and they got to the jail and opened the door and told me to get out. Well, I had never been to the jail. I didn't know where the jail house door was, but I saw a hall and they said, "Go on in there ." - I walked on and I looked up side the jail house. I didn't see no door and I thought a hall — I was going up in that hall. So I went on up in there and Beere asked me — he says, "Who's been talking to you?" I said, "Nobody." He said, "You've been over in Clinton, in that damned Nigger —"
Warren: Who asked you?
Carter: Beere — Dan — that was the Deputy Sheriff.
Warren: Deputy Sheriff, yes.
Carter: "I aint been to no Clinton." "Who been talking to you?" I said, "Nobody been talking to me." I said, "Don't you know, we've got radios and television and I read the papers." I said to him, "The ... Journal says it wants all citizens to register and vote."
Carter: So, we're going on into jail, and they put me in a cell. They unlocked me, put me in the cell. So they went on back down the hall. They come back about ten minutes later, this young white man, he — I didn't know him — he come back and unlocked the jail cell and told me to come out. So, I come on out and they told me to go down the hall, so I went on down the hall where there was the little office they had in the jail. When I got in there the Deputy Sheriff, Mr. Behan, had set up his — fixing what he had — so he took my fingerprints first and then he — after he took my fingerprints, then he stood me over side the wall and he take my picture, and after he'd taken my picture, then put me on the scales, took my weight, took my height, and asked me how old I was.
The young man what helped him arrest me was doing the writing, while ... was operating the picture. So I told him I was fifty-five, three months and five days old today; so after that, he asked me did I have any sisters. I told him yes. I had to tell him Lottie lived right in Houston, Texas, and a brother ... Told him that I had my brother in Houston, Texas, but I didn't exactly know the number perfect by heart, but they lived in Houston. Had to give their name, if I had any daughter or any children. I told them I had two daughters — they both live in Scotland here. And, I had to give my oldest daughter's house number, as far as street and 1740; where my baby girl had just moved and I hadn't been there to the new house and I couldn't give them their number, but I told them she's in Scotland.
So, after they did that, well, they take me on back, but when they was unlocking the cell — see, I had my clothes, my hat. Then the High Sheriff, Mr. Percy, he come in the hall, and they're fixing to put me back. He said, "Take his hat from him. He don't need nothing." So they took my hat. So he said, "Search him again." So they searched me over — said, "Take all his clothes. He don't' need nothing, no how. Bring the uniform out there." So they went back there and got a uniform and then they made me pull all my clothes off. So, when they giving me the uniform, he say to me, "Put him" — says to Beers, to — "Put him under that shower." Say — "Get him a shower — he's musty - ...stinks."
So, I didn't say anything. I didn't saying anything to him. So they give me the uniform and I went in and start pulling off clothes. He says, "Who been talking to you?" I said, "Nobody." He said, "You ain't going to tell me, huh?" I said, "Well, I ain't got nothing to tell you." So, I pulled my clothes off, which I was giving in my shoes, but they did let me keep my shoes. I put that coverall on and they went on in. Then, later, he come back up in that day. He said, "You ain't going to tell me who you been talking to?" I said, "I ain't been talking to nobody." Well, he told me I was lying. He walked on down the hall.
Well, I stayed there then from that time until about two o'clock or two-thirty. They sent me my dinner down, and no spoon to eat with. They had a spoon up in the grates up there. I don't know how long it had been up there. The man, brought me my dinner, he said, "Get that spoon up yonder and eat, you." So I say, "I don't need it because I don't eat this" — but I just expect they don't own a garbage can. Well, I stayed in that jail from about 9:30 'till 2:30 without water. Their faucet was broke and you could get water out of it, but I didn't know you had to — you see, I had to put all my weight up on that to get the water on — and then when I get it on I had to do the same thing to get it off, but I didn't think — I thought it was broke all the time because turn-on was — the threads were stripped on it. So anyway, the wardman, he told me how to get the water on and how to get it off — well, then it went all right.
So — after that the attorney man was there from the Justice Department, and he talked with me and asked me had I been hit, or been pushed, or anybody attempt to hit me. Well, I told him the story how it happened.
Warren: How did he — did he come to the jail? How was it now?
Carter: The attorney? He come to the jail, but he didn't —
Warren: You were in jail.
Carter: I was in jail.
Warren: The attorney, he came to your cell.
Carter: He didn't come to the cell, he come to the office. And they come to the cell and unlocked me and brought me to the jail office. That's where the attorney talked with there about how was I arrested and what did I say — and I told him that — just what they asked me, what he said, and after he wrote me up, well, he left. The Deputy Sheriff asked me — he didn't ask me, but I told him to let my nephew know that I was in jail, would the ... come go my bond. Well, the Deputy didn't make me no answer. He didn't say nothing there.
After this attorney left, then they sent me one of them traffic cops down and he asked me did I have anybody that I could get to go my bond. I told him, "Yes, well, my nephew with the tweezers — I would glad for you to let him know." So he asked me, did they had a phone. I told him, "No, they don't have no phone." He said, "Do you know anybody that have a phone that you can get in touch with?" I said, "Well, I got one 'phone out there — my cousin", I said, "but she at school and could be in Baton Rouge. "But," I said, "I have a fellow here in St. Francisville I can call."
Well, they let me out the cell — and brought me back to the little office where the telephone was, so I called my cousin — and they wasn't home. And I called another lady and she give me one of the Lodge brother's name, Clyde Johnson, the Knights of Christian, so I called him and asked him to go out and get Willie to go my bond. And he went and Willie did come to go my bond — but they told him his place was in exemption — tax exemption. And they couldn't let him go my bond that day. It had to go through some of the estate.
[It was common practice for people to put up property that they owned to bond someone out of jail. If the accused failed to show up for trial, the property was seized as forfeiture.]
And that's why they had a little talk with Willie, because he had been bonding out other men — you understand me? So, when they got to my bond, they wouldn't let him bond. So Willie left there and he went to the Deputy Sheriff and asked him would he call his brother, Mr. Bohan — they call him Bohan — he said, "No, I ain't supposed to assist no prisoner." So Willie got in and took him right to his brother, and when they got there his brother had run off, but Willie, he find him, and he told Willie he wouldn't go my bond.
And Willie told him to, "Well, I did thought you would have for one of your own brothers." "I ain't going nobody's bond. What did Joe do?", he said — "Well, I don't know what he did", he said, "but you call your brother", he said. "He's the one that put him in there." He said, "Well, that's just my nature. I ain't-a calling nobody. My phone's out of order."
Well, Willie left, and after Willie left — well, I just had to make myself satisfied — which I didn't know Willie had been there, you understand? So, about 9:30, or a quarter to ten that night, they come back — somebody has got money from somewhere. I don't know where they got it from, but they come in that night and call me about a quarter to ten to get up, come on and get out of there. Well, I got up and they give me my clothes and I pulled the coveralls off and come back in the office — and had to sign a bond — and had to sign that I had gotten my car back, with all my papers, which I didn't get them all because I had a test paper there that Rudy Lombard and Danny had give me, you see, before I went in there to register. I let them know that I did understand how to fill out the registration blank. Well, I had that up over my sun glare — of my car —
[The above refers to voter-education materials used by CORE and NAACP workers to teach people who wanted to register how to fill out the voter application form and pass the so-called "literacy test." (See CORE Voter Registration Training Materials for examples.)]
I had signed a paper that I had my car back in good standing, but I was still in jail. I didn't know whether wheels was on my car, but I had to sign it because they had me in jail and I couldn't get out to see the car. Well, when I did get out I reached over there, before I got in my car; I put my hand up there and my paper was gone. So, I didn't say anything. I just come on out. Well, Rudy, he got in the car with me and he asked me if I got harmed. He said, "Well, check the car and see if you got the paper." Well, I said, "No, I don't have my registration papers."
But, you see, by being a minister, I always carry my Bible, my Psalm book, and my Pastor's Guide. I keeps that in the car. Any time you see the car, you see that — with a coat. Care how hot it is — I always carry the coat, because lots of times I be caught up the road for — have to bury some baby or something, and I keep those books with me. Well, I went in the car and they didn't take nothing but those test papers. That's all they took from me.
So, I went on in and after I got home, well, I had a bunch of people there, waiting for me. Well, when I got home — heh, heh, my wife said, "Joe, you oughtn't have went down there." She said, "Now, if you go back down [to try registering again], I'm going to leave you." I said, "Well, you can get your clothes and start now, because I'm going back." So I say, "I'm on my way back tomorrow." Well, we heard from the neighbors — they said, "Don't go back, don't go back tomorrow." "You let us study these things and send somebody that's rich."
[See Louisiana Voter Application and Literacy Tests for background information and document examples. Note that procedures often varied from one parish to another according to the whim of the Registrar.]
Well, that settled it for that time. Well, after that we stayed from the tenth day of August where they started a school, you know, training the people how they fill out the papers. They started with the three ... at the Pleasant Green Baptist Church. Then it had started so well that instead of doing it at the Church, they would go to the Nation Hall and ... here. Well, from then Danny and Rudy they left off. Then in come Ronnie [possibly Ronnie Moore]. When they got the school organized then Ronnie come — well, he'd been teaching up with this CORE worker, from that day on until the seventeenth day of October.
After they'd taught that school awhile, then the group — I think there's about twenty-three — that right? — twenty? — Ronnie asked the question, "Who was willing to go down to try to test the register, on the seventeenth?" Well, they had seven, then they had twenty-six men there — two was out of Baton Rouge parish, they was ministers — Reverend Watson and Reverend Williamson. We had Reverend Quire, he was there but he didn't stand to go, and he got up and told them he didn't stand because he wasn't going. Well, that made twenty-three of them.
Warren: He wasn't what?
Carter: Said he didn't stand up to testify that he was going — same as — he didn't stand up because he wasn't going down there, and so, we took the word of them twenty-three. Well, out of that twenty-three we had one failure, is that right? Is that the fellow from Owens Creek. What is his name? Sylvester Meeks. He never did come. He didn't go with us, but the other twenty-two, plus, some more come after them. We had forty-three that day, when we went down to register. And, when we got down there, just us and Ronnie, and Taylor —and who else?
Elie? Matthew .
Carter: Yes, us three with Rudy. In other words, before we go in, Ronnie and Dunline, is that is name?
Elie? Frank Dunbar.
Carter: Frank Dunbar. They went in to the Registrar of Voters and the District Attorney and talked with them. And then they come back. They got information how they want him to do the crowd he had, so the District Attorney told him to bring them in by threes. He said, "Let them take the name and send them back, and let them sit on the bus. Don't let them get out there on the ground." Well, he come out and told us, so I was the first man who made the attempt to register, so I told them I was going to be the first man to go back.
Well, they took us through then and he brought them until he got about fifteen, I think it was. Fifteen, or something like that. But, anyway, the District Attorney said, "Take all of them in." And the Secretary said, "Well, I don't see why it's necessary to take all of them in today because Bill already said they were going to have to come back tomorrow. We're going to have to re-take the names." Well, he said, "Take them all."
Well, when Ronnie carried his message to stick it, he said, "Well, that's enough. We're not giving no more names today." Well, they had told Ronnie they had so many whites and they couldn't get to us until two o'clock. They told us to sit out there in the sun. Well, I left — about twelve o'clock we left and walked to a little colored grocery across the creek, over to Solitude and got us a little sandwich for lunch and we come back for two o'clock .... back by two o'clock, we would have been in there for two, but when we got back and started going — the going in again, the first door, the white citizens, they blocked that door. We went up to that door, just about to them, and when we got near to them Ronnie said, "Let's go back, Reverend. They going to block the door. Well, we had to turn around and —
Warren: You mean they stood in the door, or closed the door.
Carter: No, they didn't close it, but they didn't stand in it. You see, just before we went up to the door — they got a little porch on there — a wide step, about three steps I think it is — they didn't stand in the door, but they started to cut off that step from one side to the other one. And the door was far ... behind them as you ... Well, we had to come up the steps to get to the door, and when they had it crowded — just like my hand — they was just that close together, when Ronnie got there he said, "They done blocked us. Let's go back."
We turned around and leave from the Court House step and come back to the street, and goes down to the car. Then they had a side door, on the west side of the Court House. Ronnie said, "They're not on that door over yonder," — said, "Let's go down and look." Well, we turned the corner and he went down to that door. Well, they had some new ... FBI's or somebody they bring in to the ... front, and at that door. Well, they didn't interfere with us then, and when they got to the ... door, we knocked on the door.
He said, "Push the door and come in." Well, I didn't open that door. I bowed to Ronnie and Ronnie opened the door and then the Secretary — well, we was raised together, about a quarter of a mile — and my daddy was his daddy's neighbor, which was Joe Kitrell. He got up and said, "Come on in here, Joe." Well, I went on in. So when I went in, I didn't say anything. I just stood up — so the Registrar, Mr. Harvey said, "Who is this?" I said, "This is Joe Carter." He said, "Hi, I know you, Joe Carter." You got anything ..."
Warren: Was the FBI man with you?
Carter: Well, I think it was F... — I don't know who they were, but there's three white men — I say they was FBI. They went up Point Downy Street, to come in that side door. They was over on the Dunkton. They just come off of that thing and walked in and just see that we was running. And they stood — was three of them. One stood at this corner of the hall — one at this corner, and one stood against the Registrar's office, looking at me and Ronnie. But the man was over here, he was looking at me from an angle of about here. And the hallway ... was over here. There wasn't nobody down there, but he was watching down there, and this man over here was watching me and Ronnie. We they turned down there. They didn't say anything to me.
When I got inside, they asked me what I had to identify myself. I told them I got a driving license. I got a fraternity card. I have an AFL-CIO union card, and I have a preacher's pass. And I said, "Now here is my driving license." That's the first thing I possess. But he just looked at it and he said, "Sit down." And Joe, his secretary, said, "Before you sit down, Joe" — he said — "read that up there. Everybody who registers must read this."
Well, that was the instructions, in half an hour — answer the questions in half an hour. And a few more ... Well, I did read there, and I left the window over the office forty minutes. Well, when I say forty minutes, the Registrar had come back in. He said, "You got forty minutes to sign these cards. So he said, "Forty minutes after he got out of my home, if you don't have them fill out the time, I still got to get up and go out."
I didn't make him no answer. So, he give me the first thing he gave me was the blanks to fill out my age and with ... Democratic party ... When he give it to me I don't worry about it. I already know how to fill out the old one, because when the ... I got the stuff ready. The Registrar of Voters who died, he had tell us a copy to the American Conference [Constitution?]. Well, that was an old one, but they mixed up the ... that I had know that — so I looked at this card, because I didn't know whether this was like the one that was keeping out here or not, but it was the same identical one. But I looked it over because, before I started writing, see ... And he ... "You got forty minutes." He looked at his watch and I looked at mine. I had one minute after two.
Well, I fill that one out and my teacher always told me that when I fill it out, before I hand it over, recheck it to see if I made a mistake, because if I do, I could you know, correct that mistake because if he git it in his home, he wouldn't give it back to me. So I checked it over. I give it to him.
He said, "You finished that — well, you ... half an hour." Well, he give me the affidavit slip. When he give me that affidavit slip, I looked at it and I said, "Don't you have another paper, goes with this?" He said, "Yes, but I thought you was filling it out first." I said, "No, I want them both." And still he filling it out. I went on and answered the six questions. Well, he give me that. I looked in it and I looked at my affidavit slip. Well, I just ... it and then I filled it out. But, before I returned it to him I checked it over like my teacher told me. I check it over. Well, in checking it I did find that I did miss dotting ... well, I dotted the i's. And when I dotted the i's, I give it to him. ... said ... "Filled out everything all right."
Well he looked it over, he looked over and I give him the last paper, I looked at my watch ... and said, "You remember I started one minute after two." Well, it was twenty minutes after and that made me twenty minutes filling this Registrar's ... and ... out ... Well, he looked at the first one I give him, whilst I was filling this one out he was checking this one. Well, he must have not found any mistake on it. He just laid it over on the table. Well, then I gave him the affidavit slip. He looked it over and he mustn't not have found anything wrong because he laid that one down and took this one up and really inspected it good.
Well, he fooled with it from twenty minutes after two until thirty-five minutes after two. When he finished up with it, he carried it over to the secretary and he said there, "Look at this, Joe." And Joe, he took it and he said, "The only thing wrong with it — you're ... the affidavit slip." He said "... right?" He said, "Well, I told him right." He said "Well, it don't require for the ... You just been ... Get on his paper and let him get out of here."
And then he wrote me the paper and give it to me and I come on out, and I notice he was standing with the FBI. The side door ... next to come in and register with Ronnie. Must have been an hour I was there, he stood out in the hall, so when I come out, that man, he asked me if I got the paper. Well, ... was there with a photographer. He's standing at the door. He said, "Well, you did make it. Let me snap your picture." And I stood for him to snap my picture, and I don't know who he was. Now, there was one or two white fellows standing there, and they said, "Get that picture because this is the last one ... it ... you'll never see him no more."
Warren: Who said that?
Carter: One of the white men. You see — there was so many around me, I couldn't tell who he was because they was behind me. So, the photographer, he didn't make a move, and I believe he's ... with the Register & Star. He said, "Give me a smile" Well, when I smiled, holding the paper what they give me, ... the Courier, they ... "That's all right, that's good, good." Well, they ... and I went back, out to the outside, and didn't nobody come and ... after that and walked around.
Warren: Have you got a copy of the picture?
Carter: No, sir, I haven't got no pictures or nothing from them.
Warren: Since that time?
Carter: No, never did. I never did get no copies or nothing.
Warren: Was there any backlash after that?
Carter: After that? Well, they only, you know — use a lot of bad ... and that. Call up and told us such thing as "crows" and "black coons," spitting on me ... and that sort of thing.
Warren: What kind of people are they?
Carter: Well I ... around here. I know some of them, live — different towns around here ...
See Freedom March in New Orleans for background & more information.
See also Louisiana Movement for web links.
Copyright to this web page, as a web page, belongs to this web site. Copyright to the information and stories above belong to the interviewee and and the Robert Penn Warren Center for the Humanities.