Shirley Hanshaw Interview

Mississippi State University
Judy Ridner, Interviewer |
Starkville Civil Rights |

0:41 - Personal Background

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Partial Transcript: "Actually, I was born in Starkville, Mississippi, in Oktibbeha County, which is outside the city limits, but literally right across the road from Mississippi State University."

Segment Synopsis: Hanshaw, the eighth of nine children, gives an extended account of her family's history. She focuses mostly on her father, T.J. James Sr., a cement mason and mechanic, and her mother, Mary Alice Gillespie James, a homemaker and seamstress. She emphasizes her family's history as rural landowners, how they valued self-sufficiency, and

Keywords: Mary Alice Gillespie James; Oktibbeha County; T.J. James Sr.

Subjects: African American Churches African American Families African American Landowners

8:49 - Importance of Education

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Partial Transcript: "And, um, our mother and father always stressed the importance of education. I mean, it's not something that they said every day or every week or every month, but it was just sort of a tacit understanding that when you finish one school you go to another."

Segment Synopsis: Hanshaw discusses the two local Rosenwald Schools, the one on the hill behind Henderson High and the other on Oktoc Rd. next to the Ebenezer Church. She recalls how she used to walk across the pasture to get to school. She also recalls her mother's talents as a seamstress and her father's work to help construct several buildings on the Mississippi State University campus; her father was also a foreman on the Tennessee-Tombigbee Waterway. She describes her parents as very talented and resourceful. She talks a bit about her parents' educational history.

Keywords: Ebenezer Church; Mississippi State University; Oktoc Rd; Rosenwald Schools

Subjects: African American Children--Education African American Education African American Elementary Schools African American High Schools African American Schools Education--Segregation in Education

14:23 - Story of her grandfather's life and death

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Partial Transcript: "As I said, my grandfather, Robert L. Gillespie, uh, in rural Oktibbeha County, in an area called the Zion Franklin community, ah, that you actually get access through it, to it, by going out South Montgomery; you take a left on Mt. Olive Rd., and then take a right on Pike Road, and go all ..."

Segment Synopsis: Hanshaw backtracks to tell the story of her grandfather, who owned 500 acres in a rural area of Oktibbeha County where he kept a dry goods & grocery store and sold lumber; he was known for his benevolence to migrants passing through the area. She also relates how he lost his lands after generously co-signing a loan for his white neighbor. When the white neighbor defaulted on the loan in 1932, the bank confiscated over 400 acres of her grandfather's land. He died shortly thereafter, leaving her grandmother with fifteen children to tend to on her own. Unable to maintain the land, her grandmother sold it and moved to Toledo, Ohio, where her two oldest sons resided. Her grandfather's experience, Hanshaw concludes, gives lie to the myth that African American never helped each other.

Keywords: Oktibbeha County; Robert L. Gillespie

Subjects: African American Businesspeople African American Rural Landowners African American Rural Life

21:40 - Tight-knit nature of her family

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Partial Transcript: "But our reunions actually started 53 years ago in Toledo on Memorial Day weekend where our grandmother is buried."

Segment Synopsis: Hanshaw talks of her grandmother who died in Toledo, OH. Her grandmother's last words were to "keep the family together." In response, Hanshaw and her siblings began holding family reunions in the 1970s. Since then, there have been 53 of them, held all over the US and one in the Bahamas. She recalls, too, the story of how Dr. Longest, a white Starkville doctor, assisted in the birth of her youngest sister, admitting her mother into the white hospital. She talks of her position in her family and her current residence on family-owned land.

Keywords: Dr. Longest; family reunions; Toledo, Ohio

Subjects: African American Families African American Women

28:18 - Family property and local education

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Partial Transcript: "Now, do you consider yourself part of the Blackjack neighborhood here, or no? No, no, we're just sort of suspended here."

Segment Synopsis: Hanshaw talks about the location of her family's property in relation to other local African American communities. She then returns to her experiences at the Ebenezer School, which she attended until 6th grade. She explains the story of the Rosenwald Schools. She talks of how school consolidation affected her and other African Americans. In 7th grade she was bused to Henderson; in 8th grade she was bused to Emerson (which used to be the Beat 1 Elementary School); then in 9th grade she was bused back to Henderson. School consolidation, she argues, was a form of resistance to the Brown v. Board decision. She notes how she was a National Achievement Scholar.

Keywords: Beat 1 Elementary School; Brown v. Board of Education; Ebenezer School; Emerson School; Henderson High; National Achievement Scholars; Rosenwald School; school consolidation

Subjects: African American Children--Education African American Elementary Schools African American High Schools African American Junior Highs Brown vs. Board of Education Segregation in Education

36:45 - Hanshaw asked to be the first student to desegregate Mississippi State University

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Partial Transcript: "So, that when the head of the NAACP in Starkville, I'm sure that you've heard Dr. Conner's name, ... Dr. Conner was the only black doctor; he was president of the NAACP, a wonderful man; he was also a friend of my parents. So, he said, since Shirley is the valedictorian, since she's the only National Achievement Scholar in Starkville, she should be the one to desegregate Mississippi State University."

Segment Synopsis: Hanshaw explains how her high school achievements led local civil rights leader, Dr. Conner, to suggest that she should be the first to desegregate Mississippi State. She and her parents chose not to do so, however, because she was introverted, quiet, and shy. Her parents felt that she would have been crushed in that environment. Instead, she opted to attend Tougaloo College, where she flourished.

Keywords: Dr. Douglas Conner; Mississippi State University; Tougaloo College

Subjects: African American Education Education--Mississippi Integration Segregation Segregation in Higher Education

44:52 - Reflecting on her decision not to attend Mississippi State University

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Partial Transcript: "Now, again, in retrospect I see that I would have been crushed, because I didn't have the kind of personality that would have been able to rebuff, you know, the kinds of hateful things that were being done."

Segment Synopsis: Hanshaw reflects on her decision not to be the first African American to attend Mississippi State University. She notes how violence did accompany the integration of MSU even though it was of the kind that had affected other campuses. Because her parents lived on the campus periphery, she wonders what might have happened to them if she had opted to attend MSU. She also talks of Richard Holmes, who was two years ahead of her in high school, and who did desegregate MSU. She notes that Starkville sheriff stopped the Klan from marching on Starkville, in response. She notes how President Johnson (LBJ) pressured Mississippi's senators to make sure there was no "blood bath" at MSU as there had been at Ole Miss. Still, things "didn't go without a hitch here." She concludes this section noting that she has no regrets; Tougaloo was the "best thing in the world" for her and she recount the multiple opportunities and experiences Tougaloo offered her.

Keywords: KKK; Lyndon Baines Johnson; Mississippi State University; Ole Miss; Richard Holmes; Tougaloo College

Subjects: Education--Mississippi Integration Segregation Segregation in Higher Education

57:18 - Educational opportunities she within segregated schools

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Partial Transcript: "... all those civil bills that were passed, mainly the civil rights bill, was to provide for African Americans the opportunity, because once the opportunity is there; there is no stopping."

Segment Synopsis: Hanshaw returns to her experiences at Starkville's segregated public schools. She talks of how they were sub-standard with books handed down from white schools. But she emphasizes the opportunity students found within them. She speaks with pride of the African American teachers she and others studied under who instilled pride in them. She recalls the influence of Henderson High English teacher Rosa Stewart, who was a primary reason why she majored in English and went to Tougaloo. Stewart encouraged her and four others to take the test for the National Achievement Scholarship, which she won.

Keywords: Henderson High; National Achievement Scholarship; Rosa Stewart; Tougaloo College

Subjects: African American Education African American High Schools African American Students African American Teachers Education--Mississippi Segregation

61:08 - Civil Rights leadership in the 1960s

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Partial Transcript: "If those five men [Medgar Evers, JFK, Malcolm X, RFK, Dr. King] had been still alive there would have been many more of these kinds of programs"

Segment Synopsis: Hanshaw returns to the opportunities Tougaloo offered her as a student. She talks of Tougaloo's founding. She also reflects on her personal history in 1965, the year she won a National Achievement Scholarship and went to Tougaloo. She notes how things were different when her son won a National Achievement Award decades later.

Keywords: National Achievement Award; Tougaloo College

Subjects: African American Education African American Students Civil Rights Movement--Leaders

70:42 - More about Starkville's segregated public schools

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Partial Transcript: "So, can I get you to go back for just a couple of minutes to Henderson and what you remember about Henderson?" ... "Okay, it became clear to me, uh, after I grew up, the reason why Henderson was named Henderson High ..."

Segment Synopsis: Hanshaw explains how Henderson High got its name, noting that it was part of a consolidation process designed to discourage African Americans from attending white schools and thus defy Brown v. Board. She recalls school principal Fenton Peters as a "Renaissance man." She also notes how Starkville recently hosted its first Juneteenth Celebration. She discusses Oktibbeha County's B.L. Moore High School. She recalls how Henderson High amassed sports trophies and how it fostered leadership skills in its students. She notes how Black History was not just celebrated during one month, but all during the school year. Teachers taught them what they needed to know about their own history.

Keywords: B.L. Moore High School; Black History; Fenton Peters; Henderson High, W.C. Henderson

Subjects: African American Children--Education African American Education African American High Schools African American Students African American Teachers Education--Mississippi Segregation in Education

77:35 - Backlash against de-segregation

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Partial Transcript: "Now, I only found out after I returned to Mississippi ... in 2005 that when the schools were desegregated here, uh, there was a huge backlash, and talk about violence; I consider this violence as well as much as shooting would be violence; that, uh, someone, uh, literally trashed our legacy... "

Segment Synopsis: Hanshaw speaks of how, when she returned to Starkville in 2005, she discovered that there had been a backlash against public school desegregation here. Someone had thrown all of the Henderson High trophies and all of the composite photos of the senior classes in the dumpster. A local African American funeral director, Robinson, of Robinson Funeral Home, retrieved what he could. Since that time, they have been at the Oktibbeha County Heritage Museum and are now in MSU's Special Collections. The aim is to return these items back to the walls of Henderson.

Keywords: Henderson High; MSU Special Collections; Robinson Funeral Home: Oktibbeha County Heritage Museum

Subjects: Integration Segregation

82:25 - African American teachers and schools under segregation

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Partial Transcript: "Many of the teachers during desegregation got demoted or just out rightly fired, unfortunately"

Segment Synopsis: Hanshaw relates how, when Starkville's schools desegregated, African American teachers were forced to achieve a certain score on the GRE, which was like the literacy or poll tax for voting. Many, such as her French teacher, Mrs. Earlie Fleming, suffered unequal treatment; Fleming was made to teach English instead of French, for example. She notes how these double standards were a different kind of violence; whites had the attitude that "we're going to have to desegregate the schools, but we'll make it a nightmare" [01:26:05] They demoted schools as well, transforming Henderson High into a junior high. Thus, she can't go back to her high school because it's not there. She then talks of the local organization to reunite Oktibbeha County Training School and Henderson High grads.

Keywords: Earlie Fleming; GRE; Henderson High; Oktibbeha County Training School

Subjects: African American High Schools African American Teachers Integration in Education

90:15 - The legacies of segregated public education in Mississippi

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Partial Transcript: "It's ironic, and it is a paradox wrapped up in a conundrum"

Segment Synopsis: Hanshaw talks of the mixed legacy of segregated education, the founding of private academies, and how students today react to her in a position of authority in the classroom.

Keywords: academies

Subjects: African American teachers Education--Mississippi

93:08 - Life in Starkville after she returned in 2005

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Partial Transcript: "What's it been like to come back to Mississippi, you know, after being away for a long time? ... What's changed? What hasn't changed? ... That's the 29,000-dollar question. You have about four years?"

Segment Synopsis: In this final section, Hanshaw reflects widely on her return to Starkville in 2005 and how race relations have both changed and remained the same. She also notes how African American schools continue to face funding issues in the state, and explains why she uses the term "desegregation" rather than "integration." She speaks historically, talking about President Obama and noting how African Americans have weathered their own holocaust.

Keywords: desegregation; holocaust; integration; President Barack Obama

Subjects: African American Civil Rights African American History

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