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Interview with John Littles, March 9, 2015

Richard B. Russell Library for Political Research and Studies, University of Georgia
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00:00:01 - Introductions

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Partial Transcript: Okay, my name is Alexander Stephens. This is an interview for the Georgia Environmental Oral History Project

Segment Synopsis: Interviewer introduces John Littles, co-interviewer Christopher Lawton, and the purpose of interview. This interview took place on March 9, 2015 at the McIntosh SEED offices in Darien, Georgia.

00:00:45 - Early life / Importance of the seafood industry to local economy

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Partial Transcript: I was born in McIntosh County and grew up in McIntosh County, as well, too.

Segment Synopsis: Littles describes his childhood community and his father's work on commercial shrimp boats. He explains the importance of commercial shrimping to the local economy in the 1970s. He discusses his brief entry into the shrimping industry at a point when it was becoming less profitable.

Keywords: Eulonia, Georgia; community; employment; fishing; food; shrimping

00:08:18 - Childhood churches

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Partial Transcript: I want to--I definitely want to talk more about that--moment. Um, before that, though, still growing up, what about church?

Segment Synopsis: Littles discusses his family churches in McIntosh County and how religion has shaped the way he raises his children.

Keywords: Darien, Georgia; First African Baptist Church; Shorter Chapel AME Church; religion

00:10:39 - Perceptions of Geechee culture in Eulonia

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Partial Transcript: To what extent was Geechee culture influential in Eulonia?

Segment Synopsis: Littles discusses the divisions among African Americans in McIntosh County, particularly between those who spoke Geechee and those who did not.

Keywords: Briar Patch; Gullah/Geechee; Jones; language

00:13:50 - High school experiences

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Partial Transcript: Um, how about high school? What--could you talk about where you went to high school and just, sort of, what your experience was like at that point in time?

Segment Synopsis: Littles describes his experiences with sports in high school and the support he received from his parents. He mentions class differences within the school.

Keywords: McIntosh County Academy; class; family; sports

00:16:02 - Economic disparities in McIntosh County

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Partial Transcript: So it sounds like there were some economic divisions...which you've already mentioned, I mean, there were different levels of wealth obviously within the African American community.

Segment Synopsis: Littles discusses the economic divide between Geechees and other African Americans in McIntosh County.

Keywords: Gullah/Geechee; education; poverty

00:19:01 - Post-secondary education and work/Investment in shrimping industry

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Partial Transcript: Um, so you mentioned that you did go into the shrimping industry for a few years. Was that right out of high school?

Segment Synopsis: Littles describes his post-secondary education and his years working in manufacturing. He discusses his reasons for buying a shrimp boat, which his brother captained. He explains the ownership structure of the shrimping industry and the efforts of white owners to prevent black workers from purchasing boats.

Keywords: Coastal Georgia Community College; McIntosh SEED; Savannah State College; banking; capital; economic restructuring; interracial activism; manufacturing

00:26:41 - Social and economic context for the founding of McIntosh SEED

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Partial Transcript: So, it sounds like, then, when McSEED came together, you mentioned that it was the first time that black and white, uh, residents of McIntosh County were coming together, or at least that you saw.

Segment Synopsis: Littles describes the context and motivations for the interracial community meeting that led to the creation of McIntosh County Sustainable Environmental and Economic Development (McIntosh SEED) in 1997. He explains that, prior to the meeting, there was virtually no communication between black and white people in McIntosh County. Littles discusses the political and economic structures of the county under Sheriff Tom Poppell in the 1970s.

Keywords: Nature Conservancy; Tom Poppell; economic development; environmental sustainability; fishing; pulpwood; segregation

00:33:41 - Economic decline and racial segregation

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Partial Transcript: It's a poverty community, a poverty-stricken community, right? Alright, so you have no jobs. You only have service jobs, right?

Segment Synopsis: Littles describes the decline of the fishing industry and its impact on the economic opportunities of McIntosh County residents. He discusses racial segregation in the county.

Keywords: crab houses; crime; economic restructuring; race; service sector; shoe factory; unemployment

00:38:15 - Founding and development of McIntosh SEED

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Partial Transcript: So did you--then, at this first community meeting, I mean did you...leave it with a sense that--there was a sea change coming?

Segment Synopsis: Littles describes previous perceptions among black communities in McIntosh County that environmentalism meant "white." He discusses the importance of environmental education. Littles explains the development of McIntosh SEED, its relationships-based approach, and the ways in which it brought black and white communities together.

Keywords: 1990s; community organizing; economic development; environmental sustainability; grassroots activism; infrastructure; jobs; municipal government

00:51:52 - Growth of McIntosh SEED and its community programs

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Partial Transcript: Do you feel like it was a--the initial group that came together, was that a specific generation or was it multi-generational?

Segment Synopsis: Littles explains that there was a change in perspective from his father's generation to his own. He discusses the growth of McIntosh SEED, some of the resistance it generated among county officials, and its community programs. He talks about how McIntosh SEED brought Habitat for Humanity to the county and began a highly successful tutoring program.

Keywords: Governor's Award; Gullah/Geechee; Habitat for Humanity; McIntosh County School System; No Child Left Behind; community organizing; economic development; grassroots activism; history; political leadership; race; racial discrimination

01:08:12 - Approach to environmental justice, community development, and local politics

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Partial Transcript: That seems a world beyond--what I would imagine would be that initial meeting based on the model of The Nature Conservancy.

Segment Synopsis: Littles describes his theory of environmental sustainability and community development and explains his approach to local government officials.

Keywords: economic development; environmental justice; infrastructure; local politics; self-determination; social change; technical assistance

01:20:19 - Social change and the experiences of Littles's children in McIntosh County

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Partial Transcript: So, to go back to something you--said a few minutes ago, uh, you--were explaining what the difference was when you brought government officials into communities?

Segment Synopsis: Littles reflects on the most significant changes in the county since the founding of McIntosh SEED. He discusses how his children have been affected by his work and his wife's work.

Keywords: community organizing; education; social change; youth development

01:28:54 - Becoming a regional organization / Lessons learned

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Partial Transcript: You mentioned the future. You said you talk with your kids a lot about the future. What do you hope McSEED will do moving forward for McIntosh County?

Segment Synopsis: Littles discusses the recent work of McIntosh SEED throughout the U.S. South and its efforts to provide organizations with technical assistance for rural community development. He explains what he has learned about the importance of listening when it comes to grassroots organizing.

Keywords: leadership; rural development; technical assistance; youth development