Early Civil Rights Movement in Greene County led boycott of local merchants

Sam Rice

The Greene County Civil Rights Movement, whose early participants were the young people from the three schools, Carver High, Greene County Training and Eatman Jr. High, can boast of a significant achievement – the successful boycott of local merchants. In many of the accounts of these young militants, they talk about how devastating it was to witness how grown folk were treated by the white merchants. Blacks in professional and non-professional areas were all treated with disrespect and intimidation.
Sam Rice, who was in the senior class of 1965 at Carver High School, and one of the student activists, said that young people were tired of what their parents and grandparents had to go through just to survive on a daily basis. “My grandmother, who raised me, would give me a note to take to Jimmie Jones’ son at their store and the note read Dear Mr. Jones, please send me a sack of flour and neck bones. I will pay when I get my check,” recounted Mr. Rice. “This kind of humiliation became an incentive for the young people,” he said.
In continuing his story, Sam Rice said the students made picket signs, marched into town and entered the white owned cafes seeking service and were denied. In consultation with their SCLC and SNCC organizers, the youth activists implemented a boycott of all the local merchants. Rice explained that the community organized to take people to shop in Tuscaloosa. He said his father, who worked for Morgan Cross Car Dealership, was one who used his vehicle to take people shopping. Sam said Cross told his father to take his children out of the movement. “My father refused and in August of 1965, my Dad was arrested and put in prison in Montgomery for an entire year. We never knew what he was charged with,” Sam remembered.
Sam recounted that when it was known that he was also helping to drive Black people to Tuscaloosa to shop, his driver’s license was taken away in 1965 and he was not able to get it reinstated until 1973.

“I just continued to drive without a valid driver’s license,” he said.
In his story Sam tells of the sadness in the community when people were put out of their homes and off the land because their children were in the movement. “Sometimes the families were sharecroppers and did not own the land, but had no where to go, and just piled in with other relatives. Sometimes, the families owned the property they were on and it was still taken from them. The Movement hurt and helped at the same time,” he stated.
Sam Rice stated: “ I knew when I left Greene County I would not come back here to live.” He is currently a trucker, residing with his wife Sharon in Montgomery. He is an active member and Deacon at Weeping Willow Missionary Baptist Church in Montgomery.
From an earlier account of young people in the Greene County Movement, Luther Winn, II gave his summary of the local merchants system. “There were only about four merchants in Eutaw. All city workers were supposed to shop at Mayor Tuck’s store. Everyone who worked for the Board of Education was supposed to shop with Jimmie Jones’ store. Sometimes their paychecks were given to them at the store. All county workers were supposed to shop at Herndon’s store, The Corner Store, and all the people on welfare were supposed to shop with Norm Davenport.
“ So people were accustomed to shopping in town and the white merchants, after the boycott started, would slip groceries to certain Black folk’s home. If we found out about this, we would go at night and paint white crosses on their homes so everyone would know they were breaking the boycott,” Mr. Winn stated.
“It’s ironic now that most of the people who were the most active in the movement in those early days never really got anything out of it,” Winn said.

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