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Interview with Gussie Davis Phillips, October 26, 2011

Richard B. Russell Library for Political Research and Studies, University of Georgia
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00:00:10 - Introduction

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Partial Transcript: I am Mattie Leanor Davis Hubbard.

Segment Synopsis: Hubbard introduces her aunt Gussie Davis Phillips.

00:01:09 - Community organizing in Ocilla, Georgia, post-World War II

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Partial Transcript: Kinda gives us a little paraphrase of how it all started in Ocilla.

Segment Synopsis: Phillips remembers her brothers' community organizing efforts to improve living and educational conditions in Ocilla after they returned from World War II. She reflects on the lack of educational facilities for black students and describes her brothers' efforts to build public and vocational schools and start a share-owned black construction company. Phillips also mentions the successful appeal to the Board of Education to build a black masonry school in Ocilla.

Keywords: Board of Education; Ocilla, Georgia; activism; community appeals; community organizing; educational facilities; impact of World War II

00:13:29 - Beginning of school integration movement in Ocilla

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Partial Transcript: So finally came '54, that's when the schools were integrated.

Segment Synopsis: Phillips discusses how the beginning of the school integration movement in Ocilla was connected to the integration movement in Albany. She also mentions the difficulty in convincing black families to enroll their children in white-schools due to the fear of personal safety and of losing their jobs. Phillips discusses her personal hesitation in enrolling her daughter, and highlights the significant contribution the Davis Family to the integration movement.

Keywords: Albany, Georgia; Ocilla, Georgia; school integration

00:19:13 - Partnerships with organizations outside of Ocilla

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Partial Transcript: So, they had groups to come in to Ocilla from others, some come as far as California and out west, that came and lived in our community.

Segment Synopsis: Phillips remembers white activists who came to Ocilla and lived with black families mentions working with the interracial Teachers' Organization which lobbied for educational improvements. She discusses the unsuccessful lawsuit filed with the Education Department in an attempt to focus national attention on the poor quality of schools in Ocilla.

Keywords: Education Department; Teachers' Organization; interracial activism; lawsuit; organization partnerships; public lobbying

00:25:08 - Intimidation by white authorities / Brothers' work with Koinonia Farm

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Partial Transcript: Did you mention that my brother registered to run for elections to the city council?

Segment Synopsis: Phillips remembers her brothers' intent to run for elections which led to intimidation by the white police and their arrest. She also mentions her brothers' work at Koinonia Farm, which later became Habitat for Humanity. She also describes her brothers' relationship with the Reverend at Koinonia Farm and the segregation of funeral homes and services.

Keywords: Augusta, Georgia; Habita for Humanity; Koinonia Farm; police intimidation; racial violence; segregation

00:32:19 - Personal sacrifices in growing the Ocilla movement

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Partial Transcript: But I think what the interesting point here is, that just like most movements it starts like just a little mole and its just continues to grow and grow and expand.

Segment Synopsis: Phillips comments on how the Ocilla Civil Rights Movement grew out from families' decision to send their children to integrated schools. She also recounts her own daughters' decision to attend the University of Georgia rather than a historically black school. Hubbard reflects on the "separate but equal" discrepancy in educational facilities when she was growing up and on her family's contribution to the Civil Rights Movement.

Keywords: University of Georgia; black nuclear school integration; separate but equal

00:38:50 - Being part of a "movement" / Firing black people as control tactic

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Partial Transcript: Do you remember at what point the idea of a real movement began?

Segment Synopsis: Both Hubbard and Phillips reflect on how cities served as the initial centers for the growth of the civil rights movement. They discuss the role that exposure to these movements played in bringing ideas and people from the city to rural area. They also discuss lynching as a form of intimidation and control and its ties to economic retribution against blacks.

Keywords: city centers; growth of Civil Rights Movement; lynching; rural urban divide

00:47:58 - Community organizing movements in Ocilla before the 1960's

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Partial Transcript: And of course, that was the new generation of black boys, I can remember.

Segment Synopsis: Phillips describes the lack of sanitation facilities in the black community in Ocilla and her brothers' successful effort to pressure the local government to install a sewage system. Phillips also mentions the various political efforts that had been going on prior to the 1960s, but credits the Civil Rights Movement as providing the "listening ear" to connect local communities to those in power.

Keywords: advocacy; exposure; political agitation; political pressure; sanitation facilities; separate but equal

00:53:10 - Church life in the Movement / Hubbard's experience of desegregation

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Partial Transcript: Was there an active church life there too, that was involved in the Movement?

Segment Synopsis: Hubbard describes Ocilla's Baptist and Methodist Churches as centers for political meetings. She discusses attendance by white police at these meetings, and also mentions the contributions of the black ministers in leading and organizing activism. Hubbard also recounts how she was part of the integration of the white high school in her senior year. She describes the type of harassment she received and the focused mentality she developed as a result.

Keywords: black ministers; church life; harassment; high school reunion; integration; mental abuse; racial prejudice

01:01:39 - Desegregation after the first year / Effects of desegregation on family

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Partial Transcript: After that year, did you hear how subsequent years went?

Segment Synopsis: Hubbard comments on the process of integration beyond the first year and notes that the Irwin County school systems was fully integrated in 1969. She compares the degree of harassment that boys versus girls experienced in integrated schools. She further comments on the impact that her family's leadership and participation in the integration movement had on the professional development and success of the family.

Keywords: Irwin County Schools; family leadership gender difference in harassment; personality development; school integration