Rosa Parks and Myles Horton discuss the importance of the Highlander Folk School, the Montgomery Bus Boycott, and the American Civil Rights Movement
BROADCAST: Jun. 8, 1973 | DURATION: 00:57:13
Rosa Parks and Myles Horton discuss the importance of the Highlander Folk School, the Montgomery Bus Boycott, and the American Civil Rights Movement. The story of these two prominent figures of the Civil Rights Movement have intervened in their fight for social equality. Includes a fragment of an interview with E. D. Nixon well known civil rights leader.
Studs Terkel My guests are two very remarkable people who have a great deal to do with turning the country around. Perhaps if it does go toward enlightment, they played major roles. Mrs. Rosa Parks, the name perhaps familiar to some of you, she was the woman who sat in the bus that day, out of that came, it was 1955, some 18 years ago, the Montgomery bus boycott, that indeed was a turning point in history. Her colleague is perhaps, to me, perhaps the most gallant educator in America, Myles Horton, director/founder of the Highlander Folk School, and we'll hear of that in a moment. Both phenomena are related. The Montgomery bus boycott, Mrs. Parks, Myles Horton, Highlander. There's a voice we're going to hear that with both of you are familiar. They're here, by the way, they won honorary degrees from Columbia College, and they're here for the celebration and the honoring. Now, the voice you're going to hear is that of E.D. Nixon, a voice familiar to my two guests. Mr. Nixon was the head of the NAACP in Montgomery and that means more back in '55 than it may mean today here in the north, and he recalls that day, he refers to two people whom my guests both know, Clifford and Virginia Durr, who were two very gallant courageous people living in Montgomery. We hear Mr. Nixon's voice recalling that moment. [pause in recording] You, coming back, you're retired now.
Studs Terkel Oh, yeah. You're retired. But I'm thinking about you, there are so many things. You helped organize the sleeping car porters, the NAACP here, and you helped, of course, you were head of the Montgomery improvements originally, and you chose Dr. King.
E.D. Nixon That's right. And when she was arrested, somebody called me and told me she was arrested, and I called on the police headquarters to find out what's the charge, and it happened to have been one of these rude peoples on the desk that evening and somebody who didn't know me but he knew I was a Negro when I called, and he just [politely? delightedly?] told me it was none of my damn business. So [unintelligible]. So I picked up the telephone and called Mr. Durr. So I told Mr. Durr, he knew Miss Parks. So I said, they arrested Miss Parks for something, I said, see if you can find out what they arrested for, I said the man won't tell me down there, so he called on me, he told them, I said all right, I said I'm going down there and make bond for her, he say, come by here and I'll go with you. So I drove by his house. He's [lily-white?], what are we doing that night, he had talked to you before? And I drove by his house. Yeah, and as soon as he got out the house, good Mrs. Durr come running. So they went down there and of course when we get there, we walked to the desk [unintelligible]. So when the man showed the bond out, he showed it to Mr. Durr. Mr. Durr said no, Mr. Nixon going to make a bond, said he's the proper owner. So I signed the bond and went and got Miss Parks, and of course, Mrs. Durr right there in the police head-- That's the one north, asked if they mistreat and everything, right, and ran over, well, you know how Mrs. Durr is, and put her arm around her and kissed her, and of course that made a whole lot of them peoples pipe down and shut up, see, didn't they? And so we brought on home. And now, after we got home, we had coffee and I talked to her, and I said to Miss Park, I said, "Miss Parks," I said, "Your case can be a turning point. We've got to have your case to change the situation."
Rosa Parks Yes.
Rosa Parks There were rules regarding racial segregation. The white passengers would occupy the front of the bus and Negro in the back. There actually was no violation of the city ordinance in my arrest, but the fact that I refused to obey the bus drivers who had police power to rearrange seating to have you stand to prevent the inconvenience of a white passenger, and when I refused to obey him when he asked that I stand, I want to make it very clear, however, I was not sitting in the white section or the very front of the bus, but the first seat right back of where we were supposed to be occupying. But many people did say that I had taken the front seat of the bus which was a [southern? certain? sudden?] misunderstanding, and when the, all of the front seats in the bus were occupied by white passengers, the driver wanted four people, a man in the seat with me and two women across the aisle, to stand in order for this white man to be accommodated with a seat. The other three people did stand up and I when I refused to stand up, the policemen were called, two came, placed me under arrest and had me taken to jail.
Rosa Parks the call came. Yes, he was notified by a friend of mine and then he got in touch with Mr. and Mrs. Durr, who -- He was a lawyer there in Montgomery and she, of course, was a friend of mine. I had known her for quite a while and she was quite upset and excited over what had happened and I had to start relating the story from then and I'm still telling it.
Studs Terkel Well, we we we'll just keep this going easily, we'll go back and forth. Myles, when did you first -- Myles Horton was the director of the Highlander Folk School that you, Mrs. Parks, attended. It was at Monteagle, Tennessee and you were burned out by the first -- You were there, you were burned out by the Klansmen of the
Myles Horton per-- Wasn't that it? No, some buildings burned but the property was confiscated by the state during the Civil Rights period and we moved to Knoxville and and had an outpost up in the mountains near the park and that building was burned. Another building was firebombed but didn't burn.
Myles Horton Well, Miss Parks had been in Highlander a few months before, and we were -- But I knew Mr. Nixon very well, I'd worked with him back when [how he?] was working with the unions. So we we heard we heard the news, I guess, and then called probably Mr. Nixon or the Durrs and found out about it, and naturally we were terribly concerned, for obvious reasons, you know.
Studs Terkel I'm thinking about several things, the connecting links here, the Highlander Folk School you attended, Virginia and Clifford Durr, yourself, Myles Horton. The other three people got up, but you didn't. What impelled you to remain seated?
Rosa Parks For a long time, I had been very much against, as far back as I can remember myself, I had been very much against being treated a certain way because of race and for a reason that over which I had no control, had always been taught that this was America, the land of the free and home of the brave, and we were free people. And I felt that it should be actual in action rather than just something that we hear and talk about. And as my reason is a little hard to explain to most people, but I just feel that I was being mistreated as a human being and I wanted to in this way make known that I felt that I should have the same rights and privileges
Studs Terkel than any other person. I'm thinking that when you first met Mrs. Parks, it was at Highlander, you know, which perhaps you should talk about Highlander, that plays a role here, this quite remarkable school that's come through so much fire, fire in every sense of the word.
Rosa Parks That's right, and in order to know why it was going to be like and also to prepare ourselves mentally for this transition from complete racial segregation in the public schools to this desegregation, Myles had this workshop and of course it was with the information from Mrs. Virginia Durr that I was given the scholarship to go to Highlander and it was my very first experience in my entire life going to a place where there were other people, and people of another race, and where we were all treated equally and without any tension or feeling of embarrassment or whatever goes with artificial boundaries of racial segregation. And I would like to say, too, that Myles Horton along with his staff and others there on the mountain did give me my first insight on the fact that there were such people who believe completely in freedom and equality for all.
Studs Terkel I suppose we can't think of Montgomery bus boycott without the gallantry and heroism of the hardworking Black people of Montgomery. And yet, we also think of Myles Horton, too, this mountaineer. Myles, this vision of yours, how did it come to be? And the difficulties you had is historic and monumental. When it began? The idea of it.
Myles Horton Well, I suppose it began in my my youth. I grew up in that region and poor family, but a family that believed in education, and like families of most poor people, and it was a typically religious family with the conventional attitude towards society. But some some real love and affection, real values that I, for which I am indebted to my parents. And I was always wanted to do something of use, I couldn't conceive of a more boring life than just going out and trying to make money or be successful. And after working a number of ways I finally decided that the the opportunity to do the kind of education I wanted to do, opportunity wasn't available at any of the schools, and I knew practically all the schools in that area and started trying to think of a way to deal with the problems of people. I was particularly interested in adults. I never accepted the idea that the younger generation is going to save society when the older generation makes it impossible for them to save it, so I thought we had to deal with adults as well as young people. And what we really did was to was to say we'd like to see a real revolution this country. We thought the second revolution was overdue and we ought to make real changes, fundamental changes of values, an anti-materialistic sort of society, what we think of now as a non-technological type of society. But we felt that this had to be built on, out of experiences of and on the creative energy and the power of people. And you couldn't leave anybody out and you need to start the people who were the poorest, or people like Blacks and people of other, oh, like called domestic third-world people today.
Myles Horton people. Well, you know, we talk about third world, we got third worlds here, we in [Highland?], we deal with third-world people all the time, but they're internal third-world people. Appalachians are kind of qualify as that, they're poor people, they exploited. I would say they qualify the least, but you know the Chicanos, Spanish-speaking people, Blacks, Indians. But we always saw the mountain people as part of that. That was an idea that we didn't, you know, we didn't jump full force into that, because as white people nobody was paying attention to us but white people. Took us a long time to get Black people to have enough confidence that confidence in us to come to Highlander and be willing to, well, it took a courageous person. But we always have tried to work with, we wanted to work with all kinds of people. But, in terms of changing society, we've never made any bones about our our purpose. But we don't think you can move towards change any faster than the people, you know, who are who can furnish the powers for change or able to move. So we, we've tried to relate our programs practically to problems that people had to deal with and at the time Rosa Parks came to Highlander, we were just beginning to get some understanding in the south of the possibilities, the hope of doing something. Highlander had hope all along, but we hadn't had many customers who joined us in that hope. But people began to understand that and when we were trying to get some people, a wide range of people from all over the south, we had to rely on some of the people we knew we'd worked previously with the CIO and with labor organizations and it was people like Nixon who had been working toward --
Myles Horton Oh, yes, yes, it's a different quality altogether. It would help us recruit students, you see. So it was as Miss Parks has said, he and the Durrs guess kind of arranged for her to come to Highlander. And the reason I remember it so well is is that Mrs. Parks was probably the quietest participant in the workshop and that if you judge by, you know, the conventional standards she'd been the least promising probably. But we don't use conventional standards, so we had high hopes for her.
Studs Terkel I think just as Myles Horton was talking, you were smiling and shaking your head about the difficulties there. You recall at that time there, too, don't you? Highlander itself being attacked and you taking a chance and going there, too, I suppose.
Rosa Parks Yes, I'm sure it was quite -- Well, I hadn't traveled very much in that tim, and just getting on the bus and [hiring? the high?] about traveling I think it must be by bus. I found myself going further and further away from the type of surroundings I was used to and seeing less and less number of Black people, and finally I didn't see any and then was met by this white person and I say, "Well, I don't know where I'm going. They seem to be nice." When I got to the workshop and met the group of people there and especially Septima Clark who is from Charleston, South Carolina.
Studs Terkel Aren't we talking about something, we keep this open, by the way, you need not wait for it. Aren't we talking about something very important, Myles, and Myles Horton, Rosa Parks, Mrs. Parks, that here, you -- The first time you had been away from home. You were sort of quiet, withdrawn, says Myles, you know, aren't we talking about the possibilities in all people, in so many people, and that Mrs. Parks is almost a dramatic --
Myles Horton We, we, Highlander, Highlander deals with potentials in people. We start with where they are, but we don't, we don't, well, you kind of see people with two eyes. One of them is where they are and one is is what they can become. And somehow it changes your perspective on people and you see more in people than they even see in themselves and you try to draw that out, you try to expand people, try to get them, give them self-confidence, and the only way you can do that is not with the things you say, but the way you live. It's, you know, what you do is is the thing it says to people what it is you believe. But we never think of anybody -- As Mrs. Parks said as she did that she didn't think she'd do anything when she went back, even though some of the other people told what they were going to do. That didn't impress us as being any kind of accurate assessment of what she would do. Now, we didn't know what she would do, we didn't -- We had hopes that that this tired spirit of hers would get tired of being tired and she'd do something, and she did! Unpredictable sort of thing. And on that was built I think the civil rights movement. But it was, it took a person of her character and her beauty of life, somebody that everybody had confidence in in Montgomery, somebody that people respected, to provide the basis on which you could you could build a movement. And I remember later on, Rosa, remember you came back and I played you that tape of what you had
Myles Horton said -- Yes, I remember. When you were there. And we've got another tape of her talking about, you know, her own, her own reaction to that. What I'm trying to say is Highlander deals in potentials, that we have great faith in people's, you know, potential to grow and develop and become courageous. And it's I think been documented by our
Studs Terkel experience. As Myles is talking, you were sitting. Now we come back to you in the bus. This is sometime after Highlander. I suppose it's many things, you can't pinpoint what it is made you insist on sitting.
Rosa Parks At the time, of course, Highlander didn't come into my mind, but to go back to my firm belief, as far back as I can remember, of course I want to give a great deal of credit to my mother and especially my grandfather, my mother's father, for giving me the spirit of freedom and to instruct me in the idea that I should not feel because of my race or color inferior to any person but I should do my very best to be a respectable person and respect myself and expect respect from others and to learn what I possibly could for self-improvement coming on through my early adulthood with work with the NAACP and other organizations and trying to become a registered voter under hazardous conditions, such as being denied a number of times, and feeling that there was a threat just to become a registered voter and cast my ballot to elect offices. In 1954 when the Supreme Court decision was handed down by the through the efforts of the NAACP to do away with their public school racial segregation, I felt the spark of hope that now the United States Supreme Court and the federal government would give us some hope in doing this. But when we tried to awaken Montgomery through the Board of Education placing the petitions before the Board that the parents had signed, it was just hopeless, it was no more than just a form. I actually had been very discouraged. First I was somewhat encouraged by the decision but very discouraged because of the apathy and the host-- Apathy on the part of people, Black people, hostility and threats on the part of the white people. However, in March of 1955, just before I went to Highlander for the first time, there was a young girl 15 years old who was arrested on the bus for refusing to stand up for a white person to take the seat. She was handcuffed and bodily removed from the bus by three policemen. And when this news came to me I felt that much of what we had done in committees, meetings and other means drawing up petitions and placing them in the hands of officials without any results was just a brush-off. I felt that a lot of time and effort had been wasted and that it was time to demonstrate and act in whatever way we could to make known that we would no longer accept the way that we had been treated as a people. I didn't plan that I would be the person who would be in the spotlight because of an initial incident or action. But I worked very diligently with the Youth Council of the NAACP and of the few young people that I could get to pay attention to what I was trying to get them to see about desegregating the schools and other public facilities. I wanted our leaders there to organize and be strong enough to back up or support any young person who would be a litigant if they should take some action in protest to segregation and mistreatment. So there is where I found myself at the
Myles Horton No, see, nothing ever comes out of people in there, but the seeds of all of this is in all people. Sometimes it takes a little cultivating or little exposure to the sunlight to grow, but it's there. And Highlander, nobody puts that initial thing in people, we might sometime do do do something to encourage it, but just because we feel it's there. I remember when I had the pleasure of introducing Mrs. Roosevelt, Roosevelt, I introduced Rosa, I said, "It's a pleasure to introduce the first lady of the land to the first lady of the South, that was very early. I remember how delighted Mrs. Roosevelt was to meet to meet Rosa, 'cause she asked me to bring her so she could meet her. And Rosa was the, you know, the the first the first lady of the South and in every sense at that time.
Studs Terkel We'll take a slight, as we're talking now to Mrs. Rosa Parks and Myles Horton, two of the remarkable people of our country, I believe, two of the most gallant, certainly, who played a role, a key role in quite possibly turning this country around, though it's been turned around several times in other directions, too, and we'll return in a moment, they're both being honored, by the way, during this conversation, day of it, by the Columbia College with honorary degrees. The other Nixon, Richard is getting an honorary degree from a Florida college, you're getting one from Columbia College, and we'll return in a moment and perhaps the whole idea of what happened after your arrest, that E.D. Nixon was talking about, and the beginning of the Montgomery Improvement Association. [pause in recording] Resuming the conversation with Mrs. Rosa Parks and Myles Horton. And so, there we come back to that moment. And there you were. And what happened? A couple of policemen came. You refused to get up from the seat, and a couple of policemen came.
Rosa Parks Yes. They came and placed me under arrest because I refused to stand up on the orders of the bus driver. I remember one asked me if the driver had told me to stand up and I said, "Yes." Then he wanted to know why I refused and I told him that I didn't think I should have to stand up after I had boarded the bus and took a seat. So I asked him the question "Why do you always continue to push us around?" And the policeman said to me "I don't know, but the law is the law, and you are under arrest." So I got right off the bus without any resistance and I was placed in the police car and they waited until they could get word from the bus driver whether or not he wanted to swear out a warrant or just have me removed from the bus, but the driver did insist on a warrant being sworn out against me and I was taken to jail after being questioned and shortly after I was placed in the cell, of course I was called down again to have my picture taken, mug shot, and fingerprints made and went back into the cell for a little while and I was called out again and so when I came down the stairs from the cell I looked up and saw Virginia Durr looking through the bars at me with tears in her eyes. Of course, when the door opened she embraced me and was so disturbed about what had happened and then bond was made for me. However, up to this point, we haven't mentioned my husband who was at home at the time and my mother. I was given permission to call one person, I had to fill out a card, but that was some little while after I'd been placed in jail and I called my house. My mother answered the telephone and I told her that I was in jail. So the first thing she asked me, did they beat me, because it was a common practice not to just be arrested and placed into jail but usually manhandled by the officers and I said, no, I hadn't been physically harmed, but I did want to get out, and my husband was right there, so I said, "Please tell Parks to come and get me out of this place," so he found some person that he knew and was on his way. But Mr. Nixon, of course, he got the news first because someone had told him what had happened, and they met at the jail and we all came back home and then it was discussed what we would do following my arrest. With regard to making a case against the racial segregation on the buses in Montgomery.
Myles Horton I would I would I would like to add something here about Mr. Nixon, the good Nixon, who had tried to stimulate the Black community to action over the arrest of the young lady that Rosa told us about earlier and had not been successful. And when you were arrested, Rosa, Nixon told me that he said, "Now I know I have something that will stir this community because here is a person that the community will rally around." And he stayed up all night calling people and stirring up the community because he realized that here was a chance of a lifetime. And I mention that because I think that was an important factor in not just having, getting somebody out of jail and protesting and forgetting it, he turned that into a a movement instead of just, he was interested in Mrs. Parks as a person, but he did more than that. And I think he's due a lot of credit for laying the groundwork for what later became the Montgomery Improvement Association,
Studs Terkel and then later the -- I think we should point out that Mrs. Parks worked for Mr. Nixon, you worked as secretary for the NAACP. Today NAACP sounds like an easy kind of phrase, fashionable word, safe, but in
Studs Terkel bombed. E.D. Nixon helped organize the Pullman car porters, sleeping car porters, and then the NAACP and now came the choice of Dr. King. This is interesting, isn't it, how to choose the head of Montgomery Improvement Association. Nixon was the choice, but he said, "I didn't have enough schooling," is the way he put it.
Rosa Parks Yes, and also the fact he would have to be out of Montgomery on his job a great deal of the time. So he declined as taking the chairmanship of the presidency of the new Montgomery Improvement Association.
Myles Horton Nixon had been active, as I've indicated, in a lot of things. He was Randolph's representative in the south when the plans were made to the Black people, and it was an all-Black effort, to march on Washington. And that was that plan which brought into being the FEPC as you recall. But Nixon had been thinking this way for for a long time. And my experience is that most of the things that happened grow out of something before. Too often people don't allow things to grow out of it, they put the lid on. But I don't know if anything has happened where there weren't roots in the in the past. I think it's important to stress the role of a person like like Nixon, since he didn't appear, he wasn't in the limelight, he never was in the front, and he wanted somebody like King to be the spokesman for it. That was a matter of choice on his part. He had no personal ambitions.
Studs Terkel We come now to the events themselves. Now, the boycott began. The association was formed to boycott the buses. Now we come to, I imagine a tremendous moment. We were met, many were middle-aged women going to work as domestics, not taking the bus. Can you remember that situation, Mrs. Parks?
Rosa Parks On Monday morning, the day -- December 5th, the date of my trial, people got up as usual and looked out and saw the buses were empty and what had actually happened between Thursday evening, the date of my arrest, of course Mr. Nixon along with maybe a few others getting the word around, and of course he initially did a great deal of calling a number of people, all the ministers he could think of, and Friday morning I went back to work as usual and the "Jet" magazine, someone from the "Jet" magazine interviewed me. I was called by the local white paper in Montgomery, Advertiser to talk with some reporter, but they never did reach me because I didn't call them back. It's very interesting. And on Friday evening the very first citizens meeting was held at the Dexter Avenue Baptist Church of which Dr. Martin Luther King was the pastor and I was invited to attend this meeting. I suppose maybe about 50 people were there from over the city, some professionals, teachers, ministers, and just ordinary working people. And I was asked to make a statement of exactly what happened and how I remembered the incident. And on Saturday the I was holding a youth counselor NAACP youth council workshop. I had invited Mrs. Roby. Lucinda Roby from Birmingham who was a state director of youth at that time to come down to conduct the workshop and be the principal speaker. And when we went over to where the workshop was to be held at the State College Center, to my surprise we had no young people there, I think about maybe about four or five young people were at the workshop and I felt very disappointed because after my efforts they didn't show up. But what happened, the youth were passing leaflets on every corner about my arrest and asking through this leaflet that people not ride the bus on Monday morning and along with the fact that, one of the leaflets got in the hand of one of the people in the city whose maid has said that she wouldn't be to work and she showed her this leaflet, and she, of course, took the woman, that white woman, took it to the, I don't know who it was, some official there in Montgomery and they published it in the daily paper. And so when this came out in the paper it only added emphasis to the fact and spread the word around that people just wouldn't be
Studs Terkel riding the bus and the bus would remain empty on Monday morning. Isn't this interesting, that it's more about -- Myles? The misinterpretation by those in power. They thought publishing the paper would frighten Black people by publishing it and had the opposite -- No knowledge at all of what the Black people were thinking all these years, really.
Myles Horton That's a beautiful example of how Black people have have had to use the communications media, white people's media, for their own advantage. Now, they had a grapevine going before that I don't know, in rural areas among poor people, I would say, Black people. Any group of that kind that doesn't have no control of the media. The grapevine is just word of mouth, so there was already information spread throughout the community about the meaning of, the significance of that. But the word hadn't spread to everybody. So this, all this did was to supplement the the real word, you see, and just announce to everybody, that this was on and it had exactly the opposite meaning from what the what the what what the press assumed it would have. Because the groundwork had been laid, you see, and they don't understand how this is done, therefore they misinterpret that. Another example of this misunderstanding was that the whole civil rights movement was built on Black people's ability to anticipate the action of white people, it would always be, anything the Blacks ask for, they'll say no to. So the demands keep escalating. The first demand was was fixed seating on the bus. And of course, they knew they would turn that down, and they asked for a [botching?] of seating and for black drivers. But you could always know that the Black request would be turned down if at any time the whites had had sense enough to give in, it would probably kill the movement, but you can always be sure they won't.
Rosa Parks The first evening, Monday evening, after the day-long people -- Or no, protests. This was all spontaneous. And I think I remember asking one of the young girls why she didn't come to the workshop, she said, "I had to be passing out those leaflets," and another realization came to me that we accomplish very little, almost nothing with just meetings and rhetoric and discussions. That action is necessary. So they were wise enough to see that it was more important to stand on the street corners and pass these papers out to everyone who passed than to sit in a meeting and listen to someone speak. So I think we had to learn a great deal from the youth and the very first day that I heard that there would be people not riding the bus that came from the local college and the schools where the young people said that they themselves would not be riding the bus.
Rosa Parks And older people, of course, were right there as determined as the youth, I can't -- In fact, it was a merging of people from all walks of life, aged, youth, those who were poverty-stricken and all levels of people.
Myles Horton There were people who refused to ride those buses who were convinced that that action would get them fired for their jobs. They did it despite the fact that they believed they'd go hungry as a result. But they were willing to do to make that sacrifice. That's the kind of spirit that was it made that such a successful bus boycott.
Studs Terkel Is a poor white south who was coming to Highlander, she remembers that converted her. Peggy had been a racist, and she remembers elderly women walking, refusing the bus and being put on the bus, forced on the bus, by policemen, standing up for a block and then walking off again. That was part of it too. Isn't that when the phrases came into being, too, Mrs. Parks? "My feet were tired but my heart had come again."
Rosa Parks Yes, that was quite a slogan at the time, especially in the mass meetings, of course, on two evenings a week under the guidance of the leaders, there would be mass meetings at various churches over the city in which the people kept their spirits up with the religious singing, praying, and listening to speeches from Dr. King, Abernathy; and well, there was so much eloquence around Montgomery at that time.
Rosa Parks Three hundred and eighty one days, in fact more than a year. We began December 5th, 1955 and I think it was December 21st or somewhere in past the middle of December 1956 and we actually started back to riding the buses.
Studs Terkel This is interesting, this really in a way was the first big example, wasn't it, of what a boycott could do, because I suppose most people rode the buses were Black people because they didn't have, not too many had cars.
Studs Terkel So Myles, thoughts now, it's 18 years later since that moment. In the meantime, Mrs. Parks has done other work she's now the secretary for Congressman Conyers of Michigan, Detroit. Highlander is now in Knoxville, Tennessee.
Myles Horton Well, nobody could've anticipated what what took place. Except in faith that people somehow would react, finally react, and that all you could do in the meantime was try to bolster people's spirits and help them get rid of their fears and give them some experiences that would probably suggest that society itself could change. You could see it in miniature like in Highlander where we could control the situation if we could demonstrate by the way we lived and what we believed and the way we treated people, that there was a possibility of in this situation Blacks and whites working things out. We hoped that idea would have some small influence but that's about all you could do 'til the time came and nothing would have happened then if the it hadn't been for what Rosa did and what Nixon did to take take advantage of it, which started something that Dr. King came along and picked up on it in a very imaginative sort of way. I remember going down to Montgomery maybe the first month or two after the boycott started, talking to Martin, I'd known him as a college student. I knew his father very well in Atlanta.
Myles Horton No, Rosa can tell you that story. And Martin was saying that, you know, "This is not what I was training for in theological seminary, you know, and I don't know what I'm going to do about all these things." And he said, "What do you do when you're under this kind of pressure in dealing with people?" I probably had a little bit more experience of that kind and not in that kind of situation, but with people when the going got rough and you had to build on the solidarity of people. And I said "Baloney. The only suggestion that I have to make is that you have to grow your strength from the people, you're not going to get it from any kind of ideology or ideologic or ideologies, that that's fine to have and we all need them and I'm all for that. But but practically speaking, you've got to listen to the people and learn to to respond to their feelings and needs and be intuitive." And he seemed to feel that that was happening. He was saying, "Well, that's just kind of what's happening," you know. And he demonstrated that he had that kind of a, kind of sensitivity and ability which I think was, without which he would have never been the force he came to be. He was a really growing person and he learned to be sensitive to the joyous strength of the people. Well,
Myles Horton his religious philosphy. What were you thinking of, Mrs. Parks, as Myles was talking? Tell, tell, this question was asked, Rosa tell that when we had the ending of the Mont-- Selma, Montgomery march and march with big billboards that was
Myles Horton Yeah. Half the size of this wall here all along the road with the picture of Martin Luther King and Highlander and along with the rest of us, Rosa was in that picture, and the people were saying that Martin Luther King had been a student at Highlander and it was a communist training school and it was being used by the opposition to try to cripple the civil rights movement. It was like some of the other things that it was inspiration to people instead of a negative thing. But that was the background of the charges that were being made there and Rosa got up and made a speech and she explained it. Tell him what you said, Rosa.
Rosa Parks Oh, I had been there several times and he only accepted an invitation to be the guest speaker when they had the 25th anniversary of Highlander and he spent just maybe long enough to make a speech and be on his way because of his prominence. They did say that he had been in training to become a communist, or as a communist at the Highlander Folk School.
Studs Terkel Rosa said, "I was the one at Highlander, you know, I'm the student, I was the one, not Martin. He was just our speaker." Well, just as you're talking, I'm thinking that the reverse always works, doesn't it. Now we have Watergate, too, don't we? I mean interesting how the complete --
Studs Terkel You can have Watergate. The complete misunderstanding of what is happening down below is really amounts to, doesn't it? I'm talking here, this an hour goes so quickly and all we're just doing is touching and having the audience meet two very gallant and remarkable people, listening to the history of Myles Horton and Rosa Parks. You were saying, Myles?
Myles Horton When you get Watergate and the civil rights movement are illustrations of the difference between when you have people from the top running things and when you have people at the bottom running
Studs Terkel things. Basically, this is the nature of Highlander, of course, the school now in -- Outside Knoxville. Mrs. Parks, and Myles Horton, I know there's much more to be said. It was 1965 when Dr. King introduced you at the end of the Selma-Montgomery march, and we were seated in the home of the Durrs that day, Myles and I, and E.D. Nixon, and that was ten years after Montgomery, and now it's eight years after Montgomery-Selma, and so there's still a long row to hoe, but there is Rosa Parks, who represents, and that 15-year-old girl, and the young and the old. And so the path is still there, isn't it?
Myles Horton Yeah, we tried to get Rosa to our fortieth anniversary, we opened a new school in Newmarket because we thought she would, more than any person we knew, symbolize what Highlander stood for. Unfortunately, her husband was sick at that time and we had to have a Appalachian Black stand in for Mrs. Parks.
Rosa Parks I would like to express the significance of the fact that in 1955 this protest movement against racial segregation began in Montgomery, Alabama the cradle of the Confederacy, and it spread across the country in many forms in many ways, including the student sit-ins and all kinds of protests and the, coming back to Montgomery for the Selma to Montgomery march, was a just rounding-off of that era and in the movement, the people witnessed many significant changes and unbelievable changes in the hearts and minds of Black people. [music in background through rest of interview] And I learned much myself. I learned that no matter how much you try and how hard you work, to give people an incentive, it's something that you cannot yourself give another person, it has to be within the person to make the step and to have the belief and faith that they should be free people, and the complacency and the fear and the oppression that people have suffered so long after the emancipation of chattel slavery and the replacement of the mental slavery of people who believe, actually believe that they were inferior to others because of the position that they had to hold and the oppression they had to endure, when that was thrown off and they began to stand up and be vocal, be heard and make known their dissatisfaction against being treated as inferior beings, it is my belief now, especially with the young people as well as some few older ones who are left in spite of all the assassination, that we will never go back to that time again in our lives. And even with much of what has happened to our dismay, and to our unhappiness and our feeling that we wish things could have been another way, it is much better to make changes than to remain or go back to the old way of life, and I continue to be hopeful that there will be a way for us to eventually know freedom with all its meaning and what it should be here in this country.