Interview with Charles Neblett, June 17, 2013

Louie B. Nunn Center for Oral History, University of Kentucky Libraries

 

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00:00:00 - Introduction / family and influences

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Partial Transcript: I am Nieta Wigginton. Today is June the 17th, 2013. I am in Russellville, Kentucky, with Mr. Charles Neblett, and our videographer Joanna Hay.

Segment Synopsis: Neblett talks about his name and his parents' names, and his desire to give his children names with meaning. He discusses his extended family and how their experiences influenced him. Neblett describes how the murder of Emmett Till affected him. [The segment pauses and resumes.]

Keywords: African names; Ancestors; Childhood; Civil War; Connections; Emmett Till; Equality; Family names; Fathers; Grandfathers; Heritage; Listening; Menaing; Mothers; Music; Pleasant Neblett; Resistance; Robertson County, Tennessee; Siblings; South

Subjects: African American families.; Names, Personal--African American; Till, Emmett, 1941-1955.

00:11:51 - Education and youth

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Partial Transcript: So what was your first step to getting involved in the Civil Rights Movement, formally?

Segment Synopsis: Neblett talks about attending college, and describes his elementary education. He talks about the subjects he enjoyed as a student. Neblett describes influential teachers that he had. He talks about defying segregation laws while in high school, getting into trouble in college, and voicing his concerns about segregated housing.

Keywords: Anna (Ill.); Campus housing; Civil Rights Movement involvement; College president; Desegregation; Education; Elementary school; High school; Identity; Integration; Jazz musicians; Motivation; Movie theaters; Music; Racism; Resistance; Restaurants; Scandal sheet; Sports; Students; Study; Teachers

Subjects: African American students.; African American teachers.; Discrimination in housing.; Segregation in education.; Segregation in higher education.; Segregation.

00:25:10 - Organizing in Cairo, Illinois

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Partial Transcript: Again, a friend of mine named John O'Neil, he was in the Movement also, he got me in a lot of trouble.

Segment Synopsis: Neblett talks about traveling to Cairo, Illinois with a friend to help organize civil rights efforts. He talks about the importance of controlling fear. He describes being arrested, and how he kept his spirits up during his incarceration.

Keywords: Cairo (Ill.); Children; Demonstrations; Fear; Humor; Jail; John O'Neil; Malcolm X; Martin Luther King, Jr.; Motivation; Music; Police; Praying; Resistance; Responsibility; Segregation; Singing; Sit-ins; Youth

Subjects: African American civil rights workers.; African American political activists.; Civil rights movements--Cairo--Illinois.; Civil rights workers

GPS: Cairo, Illinois
Map Coordinates: 37.013056, -89.180278
00:35:17 - Desire for the total liberation of African Americans / Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee

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Partial Transcript: So when you say "the eye on the prize," what is the real prize?

Segment Synopsis: Neblett talks about his desire for the total liberation of African Americans. He discusses the real meaning of integration, and what is necessary to achieve integration. He talks about the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee's participation in the South and his involvement in Mississippi voter registration efforts. Neblett describes how he would convince scared African Americans to register to vote.

Keywords: Amzie Moore; Charlie Prickett; Ella Baker; Greensboro (N.C.); Integration; John Lewis; Liberation; Mississippi; Plantations; Robert "Bob" Moses; SNCC; Segregation; Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee; Voter registration; War on Drugs

Subjects: African American civil rights workers.; African American political activists.; Civil rights movements--Mississippi.; Civil rights workers; Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (U.S.)

00:49:20 - Violence in Mississippi / more on Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee

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Partial Transcript: Did you ever see anybody get lynched?

Segment Synopsis: Neblett talks about house bombings and shootings in Mississippi. He talks about driving through a cotton field when being chased by police and keeping a radio to use when he got into trouble. He discusses SNCC training local leadership and describes Medgar Evers.

Keywords: Active protests; Assassinations; Bombings; Freedom Summer of 1964; KKK; Ku Klux Klan; Leadership; Leadership training; Lynchings; NAACP; National Association for the Advancement of Colored People; One man, one vote; Roadblocks; Ruleville, Mississippi; SNCC; Shootings; Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee

Subjects: African American civil rights workers.; African American political activists.; Civil rights movements--Mississippi.; Civil rights workers; Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (U.S.)

00:57:53 - Freedom Summer of 1964

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Partial Transcript: You know, these assassinations were--they was happening all the time. That's

Segment Synopsis: Neblett talks about warning youth going to Mississippi for the Freedom Summer of 1964 that they may be killed. He describes recruiting people for the Freedom Summer of 1964 and some people being unaware that African Americans could not vote in Mississippi. He talks about the foreign press that came to Mississippi and how other countries were reacting to the Civil Rights Movement. He talks about the organization of the Freedom Democratic Party. [Tape 1 ends during segment and Tape 2 begins. There are multiple brief interruptions during the segment.]

Keywords: Andrew Goodman; Campus travelers; College students; Concerts; Decolonization; Democracy; Fannie Lou Hamer; Foreign press; Freedom Democratic Party; James Chaney; John F. Kennedy; Michael Schwerner; Mississippi; Newspaper; Press; Propaganda; Robert "Bob" Moses; SNCC; Singing; Voter registration

Subjects: African American civil rights workers.; African American political activists.; Civil rights movements--Mississippi.; Civil rights workers; Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party.; Mississippi Freedom Project.; Segregation and the press; Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (U.S.)

01:13:47 - Fannie Lou Hamer and women in the Civil Rights Movement

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Partial Transcript: Fannie Lou Hamer is a name that some people may know. But she's one of the few women in the Civil Rights Movement whose name has survived. Tell us about the role of women and how people responded to Fannie Lou Hamer, as a woman being in that leadership role.

Segment Synopsis: Neblett talks about Hamer losing her job when she registered to vote, and becoming a leader in SNCC. He discusses other women who served in SNCC and the Civil Rights Movement. He talks about his mother's support and fear for him.

Keywords: Discrimination; Encouragement; Fannie Lou Hamer; Gloria Richardson; Grandmothers; Highlander Folk Center (Tennessee); Leadership; Mississippi; Mothers; SNCC; Spokesperson; Training organizers; Women

Subjects: African American women civil rights workers; Civil rights movements--Mississippi.; Hamer, Fannie Lou.; Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (U.S.)

01:20:34 - The Freedom Singers / more on Fannie Lou Hamer

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Partial Transcript: Now earlier when you mentioned jail, you said what kept a person's spirit up in jail was prayer and singing. You've mentioned singing a bit, and we know that you have a special role in the Civil Rights Movement because of the gift of song.

Segment Synopsis: Neblett talks about the importance of the Freedom Singers. He discusses the risk taken by African American families who hosted students during the 1964 Freedom Summer. He describes President Lyndon Johnson's voting compromise and Hamer's response. He talks more about the organization of the Freedom Singers and describes an incident of a church congregation singing about what was happening to them. He describes the power of music, and his father’s musical talent. [The interview is paused during the segment.]

Keywords: Ain't Gonna Let Nobody Turn Me 'Round; Convention; Cordell Reagon; Democratic Party; FBI; Fannie Lou Hamer; Fathers; Hubert Humphrey; Lyndon Johnson; Music; Newspapers; Organizing; Press; Risk; Safety; Scholarships; Singing; Song leaders

Subjects: African American civil rights workers.; African American political activists.; Civil rights movements--Mississippi.; Freedom Singers; Hamer, Fannie Lou.; Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party.; Mississippi Freedom Project.; Protest songs.

01:33:09 - Politics after the Civil Rights Movement

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Partial Transcript: How were you financially taken care of through that time? Did you get paid for being an organizer?

Segment Synopsis: Neblett describes how communities took care of organizers. He talks about finding out who community leaders were. He discusses his first job after the Civil Rights Movement, helping with the Obama campaign, and how community organization helps prepare a person for a career in politics. He discusses political arguments that distract from real problems in the country.

Keywords: Abortion; Al Sharpton; Barack Obama; Campaigns; Church; Community organizers; Conventions; Elections; Freedom Singers; Jesse Jackson; Michelle Obama; Morality; Political movements; Political office; Politics; Universal health care system; Welfare

Subjects: African American civil rights workers.; African American political activists.; Civil rights movement; Civil rights workers

01:44:44 - Faith / parenting

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Partial Transcript: Well how has your faith impacted your work? And what you do--what you did to be the light of the world?

Segment Synopsis: Neblett discusses his faith and aversion to religion. He talks about other distractions of youth, and the importance of knowing who he is and where he came from. He describes the responsibility of parents is to make education a priority for their children. [The interview is paused during the segment.]

Keywords: African Americans; Education; Faith; Fathers; Heritage; Identity; Learning; Prison system; Religion; Responsibility

Subjects: African American civil rights workers.; African American parents; African American political activists.; Faith.; Religion.

01:52:04 - Neblett's role as a father

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Partial Transcript: Yesterday was Father's Day. And you're talking about parenting. What were the most important things, as we talk about your life history today, that you've done as a father?

Segment Synopsis: Neblett talks about being a father and what he strove to instill in his children. He discusses the importance of helping children understand their gifts and calling in life. He names his role models and heroes. He describes the process of making a person a slave, and speaks more about his time in jail. [The interview is paused twice during segment.]

Keywords: Children; Civil Rights Movement organizers; Gloria Richardson; Identity; Internalizing slavery; James "Jim" Forman; Nat Turner; Resistance; Robert "Bob" Moses; Slaves

Subjects: African American civil rights workers.; African American fathers.; African American parents; African American political activists.

01:58:45 - More on violence in Mississippi

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Partial Transcript: So you'll tell us a little bit more, then, about, um, when you were in places where you were bombed. The homes were bombed. Or you were physically abused.

Segment Synopsis: Neblett talks about the safety measures he took during home bombings and shootings. He describes one incident where he was in a house that was bombed in Mississippi. He recites a song that he relates to, and talks about the importance of taking ownership of one's actions. He talks about other jobs he had, and how he came to live in Kentucky. He describes how he defines himself. The interview is concluded.

Keywords: Distractions; Hold On; Hospital; House bombings; Mississippi; Purpose; Rand Paul; Safety measures; Shootings; Singing; Social action; Songs; Strategies; Tactics; Terrorism; University of Louisville

Subjects: African American civil rights workers.; African American political activists.; Civil rights movements--Mississippi.; Civil rights workers; Protest songs.