Victoria Gray Adams: Now, I want to fast-forward a little bit, because I know I only have X amount of time up here, to the early 60's. This infant Victoria has become an adult. She's now a wife and a mother and businesswoman. Even at that point, I was always taking risks, trying to do things that would make a difference. I can remember that during that time I did quite a bit of travel during this growing up time, and I even lived as, I pointed out, outside of the country, at that time, for four years in Europe. But, I came back to the states, I came back to Palmer's Crossing, with the idea of developing a business, I don't know where he is right now, I'm not going to say building a business, that would offer opportunities to the people in the community that would enable them to earn decent incomes and make a life for themselves without having to perform in demeaning environments and demeaning tasks in all to many cases. Not that there's anything wrong with any task that needs doing, but there's something wrong when you're restricted in what tasks you can do, so I wanted to offer alternatives. And you know, that business was unfolding very well at the time I'm about to share with you, which kind of earmarks the time that I really got involved with the official movement, the civil rights movement, I was doing very well, I had a staff of about 15 people, and they were making decent, very decent money, for Hattiesburg, MS, in the early 60's, and then, one day I was sitting here at my desk, tending to my own business, and two young men walked into my office and introduced themselves as Curtis and Hollis, and explained to me why they were there. It seems that they had been invited, well, SNCC had been invited to send some workers to Hattiesburg, I believe, by Mr. Dahmer. Well, between the time that Mr. Dahmer invited them, requested their presence and the time that they got there, word had come down from some mysterious place that none of the churches were to allow them in. They did not want these people in Hattiesburg. And so these two young people were here from guess where—not from the North, not from college campuses here or here, but from McComb, Mississippi. I refer to them as home missionaries. So, there plight came to the attention of my brother and he suggested that they come and find me, that I may be able to help and it just so happened that I thought I could, I called our pastor and told the predicament of these two young people, and he said absolutely, let's say yes, I'm quite sure that the board will not object, but we'll say yes, pending the okay from the official board. And so we did, and I will always remember that first night when Curtis and Hollis made their pitch to the gathered body in Palmer's Crossing, where the Hattiesburg Movement was born, at St. John's Methodist Church, this one room facility that had all these nice mottos around the wall. After they had explained why they were there, explaining to us how we could do something about the many needs in our community, and finally, telling us what that was, it was simply a matter of going down to the courthouse and getting registered to vote, that if we became registered voters, then we would have the means of making needed changes in our community and I thought that sounded pretty good and didn't sound like any really, you know, challenging thing to do. And so when they told us all the good parts and all the good things and what was necessary, finally they came to what I call the altar call, and they said, "Now, how many people will meet us at the courthouse in the morning?" and I thought every hand in the house was going to go up. And I... and then I looked around and maybe a half a dozen hands had gone up, of which mine was one, the pastor was one, and I promise you what I'm about to tell you is true. I heard a voice that said distinctly, 'Victoria, you're getting into something that's going to make a big difference in your life." In other words, the message was you may have stepped too far this time but you know, my hand was up and my word was out. And among the other three or four people whose hands were up were local school bus drivers, and so we all met down at the courthouse the next morning as promised. Well, by the afternoon, when the bus drivers went to pick up their buses, to pick up their children, they didn't have a job, and guess what, when the evening paper came out, it was spread all across the front pages, "Local Bus Drivers fired from their jobs." Why? Because they went down to the courthouse and tried to register to vote. And thus, I repeat, began my journey with the official civil rights movement.
Well, my first intention was simply to be supportive of these young men, you know, in whatever ways they needed me to. You know, I'd fix them a meal sometimes, or you know whatever was necessary. Mr. Dahmer furnished lodgings, but it was a long ways from Hattiesburg over to _______, so once they go over there in the morning, they weren't going to get back there for a while, so I'd fix a meal or whatever to help them get through. Well, also, I started becoming their interpreter to the community, telling the community who they were, because the papers were telling all kinds of stories about who they were and why they were there, and people were afraid of them, and so that was the ways that I tried to support them, but what actually happened there was they would not accept what I was willing to offer. They just kept wanting me to do a little bit more, and a little bit more, and a little bit more, and they just kept coming at me until they finally encouraged me, coerced me into going down to Dorchester, GA, and taking the Citizen Education Training. And so, I let them talk me into it, and I went down and took the training, and the objective was once you took the training, you come back to your community, and you organized your own class, and you taught people the elements of citizenship, what it takes to become a first class citizen, and I kind of alluded to this the other day when I responded to someone who was up here, you gave to them, you made available to them, all of the information that they needed in order to understand what first class citizenship was all about and why it was important for every person to be registered to vote and to exercise that right to vote. What you find, of course, is that once people get that information it frees them up when they realize that they're not asking somebody for something that isn't already theirs, or should be, and it doesn't remove the fears. Let me refer back to the school bus drivers, what do you think happened after that happened? People who may have been willing to go down became very cautious to just flat no. No. But as we began to teach people what this thing, registered voters, what this thing, citizenship education, really was all about, then that enabled them to rise above their fear. Not to lose it, because believe me there were no less dangers, but to rise above their fears, and begin at first, little by little, to go down to the courthouse, and try to get registered to vote. Well, to move the story along, I kept letting them entice me to do more and more and more, and pretty soon, believe it or not, I actually literally closed my business down. And entered into the civil rights movement full time. And I must have stayed in there, on that basis, for the next six or seven years, and during that time I had some of the most exciting experiences of my life. Central to that was the meeting of that community of young people called the student nonviolent coordinating committee.