Interviewee: Edna Williamson
IWY TX 137
Interviewer: Adade Wheeler
Date: November 18-21, 1977
Edna Williamson, of Tillatopa, Mississippi, was a delegate at large at the National Women’s Conference. Williamson, 43, was born in Alabama. She chaired the rural women’s workshop at the Mississippi State IWY conference. She was on the nursing staff of the Non-Mississippi Retirement Home in Grenada, Mississippi, but also taught English and music over the years. Interview includes discussion of the impact of women’s organizing in Mississippi and her hopes that the IWY could encourage individuals of different faiths to come together in Mississippi to enact positive change.
Adade Wheeler: It’s Edna Williamson.
(Break in recording at 0:04)
Edna Williamson: . . . it’s ninety. Tillatopa, Mississippi. Located approximately eleven miles north of Grenada, Mississippi.
AW: North of what?
EW: Mississippi. Grenada.
AW: Oh, Grenada. And you’re here in the capacity of delegate at large?
AW: And what is it that got you interested, and started you in being interested in this International Women’s Year meeting? To be a delegate at large?
EW: While our . . . really, I didn’t think in terms of being a delegate at large. I have been interested in the welfare of people. Not only our blacks, but I’ll say people. Or, since my high school days. In turn, I have followed every worthy cause. And if I could do anything to help to promote and secure the rights of individuals, etcetera. It has been my privilege. Therefore, when I was extended an invitation to come to Ole Miss on March 17, 1977, I had no earthly idea as to the nature of this meeting. But upon arriving there, I found Mrs. Willie May Taylor from Grenada a member, Mrs. Cora Norman, who I also knew, and Dr. Rea, R-E-A, who I knew, and Mrs. Jessie Mossley. Immediately, upon formulating various committees, I was asked to assist the Publicity Committee chairman, Mrs. Keller, who was the statewide chairman. And I was also asked to serve as area eleven travel coordinator for the state conference. And it just developed. Like this.
AW: How was the meeting?
EW: All right. Yeah, then, following that, in putting together our conference, I was asked to chair the rural women’s workshop. And I served as convener, putting it all together. Securing the reporters, sergeant-at-arms, and the moderator.
AW: And how did it go when you . . . ?
EW: Oh, just great. Just great. While on the beginning day, we were invaded by a surprise. Or, by Mormons. And a group of men unexpectedly, who were prepared to challenge and make interruptions in the workshop. And once I set the record straight, according to the guidelines passed down from Washington D.C., our workshop went out precisely as planned. And I’m sure that most of the participants there agree that they had been benefitted, because we expose them to our issue that affected rural women: where they could go, federal agencies available, and other institutions that could provide help and aid for their progress.
AW: Then, that was the state meeting
AW: And then from there . . .
EW: And during the state meeting, I was nominated. I do not know who sent in a written request. I was also nominated from the floor, but was outvoted by one of the men who succeeded in being elected. White gentleman from Mississippi.
AW: White men.
EW: Right. And the next thing I knew was that someone contacted me in the city of Grenada downtown, and stated, “If you read the papers, I saw on yesterday where you have been elected a delegate at large to go to Houston.” I said, “No, what paper?” and I was told at that time of the person stated, it was the Daily Star of Grenada. I went to church later on that night for choir rehearsal, and I was involved at the commercial appeal for Memphis, Tennessee was also carrying a story. At the close of the choir rehearsal, my pastor informed me that the Clarion Ledger of Jackson was carrying the story. However, at this time I had not received any official notification from Washington.
AW: What about the conference itself, now? What are you finding here? How do you feel about the conference, and how it’s going?
EW: Oh, it has been a tremendous success. A lot of us have been praying. We have been working and asking God’s divine guidance so that we might — women of all races might — come, united as a front to solve the problems which affect all of us, while none of us can climb any ladder without support of the other.
AW: That’s right.
(Pause in recording at 8:20)
AW: Go ahead. You were telling me about . . .
EW: On the various issues that have been debated without . . . while in fact being so calmed, and the orderly manner in which the entire procedures have been carried on. It’s just been truly amazing. And, again, I always count on prayer. To some means. And it is the answer.
AW: What do you see as coming out of this? What do you think the results might be?
EW: I see those who have perhaps a host of certain issues, and who have been unbiased in that thinking of those who have tried to promote the good and the welfare of all citizens of this nation will take a new look, and reassess their thinking. I also see the beginning of a united front, which was fore-saw by our forefathers in planning the Declaration of Independence to secure and promote the welfare of all citizens.
AW: Do you see any evidence of more unity? Have you run across anybody who has reassessed, or who is reassessing? Do you see any progress in your . . .
EW: There was definitely evidence as the various issues were debated. More and more were declining to oppose and join in the united front.
AW: They were.
EW: Yes, in the voting.
AW: So, you have seen evidence in Mississippi of change?
EW: We have seen evidence here. This state.
AW: That’s really a change, then. Mississippi has been one of the most difficult, hasn’t it?
EW: Another noticeable thing, which has been commented on by many to me is that, prior to our arrival here in Houston, Texas, one of the local newspapers here were carrying spy stories about the conference. And what do they expect. And, following our orderly first section, the first account showed this improvement.
AW: Showed that it was . . . so you feel the press is giving it more positive . . .
EW: Indeed so.
AW: When you get back to Mississippi, can you see anything growing out of this in Mississippi?
EW: I certainly do. I think that ministers and their congregations, of various faiths, of various races; the church women, also of various races and faiths will come together, and set and reason together, so that our children and our grandchildren to come might have a better county, city, state, and nation to inhabit.
AW: Can you tell me something of your own background? Are you a working woman? You have a family?
EW: Yes, indeed. I am a divorcee. Forty-three years of age. Born in a sister state, Alabama.
AW: You have children?
EW: I have three daughters. The oldest is married and lives in Chattanooga, Tennessee. And I have two daughters who are students at Stillman College, Tuscaloosa, Alabama.
AW: Your daughters will have more opportunities than your generation had?
EW: Indeed, so. My second daughter is studying law, presently.
AW: What do you do yourself?
EW: Presently, I am nursing. I have tried to prepare myself in certain areas, so that I could not seek employment and what, another door or another window might be opened for our survival.
AW: So, what are you prepared in, then? How many things can you go and do, besides nursing?
EW: I’ve taught.
AW: Taught? What have you taught?
EW: English, music.
AW: And, it’s in the public schools, or . . .
EW: Yes. And also, a college.
AW: Have you?
EW: Quite. We had a preparatory school associated with the college. And I served as principal of the junior high . . .
AW: Did you really?
EW: . . . of this prep school.
AW: You served as principal of a junior high, you know a lot about that age group, don’t you?
EW: Indeed so. I enjoy children. I am currently working with a playground committee, which I have been associated with in Grenada County for the past ten years. It was recently renovated completely and turned over by the city of Grenada to our committee for operation. We held our veteran tourist services on the third Sunday in October of this year. During the sum of my . . .
AW: Busy woman.
EW: This playground committee offers recreational activities there almost eighteen hours a day. Really.
AW: Oh, great.
EW: Our ports are flooded with . . .
AW: Have you been involved mostly with, say, projects for human betterment, rather than women’s projects. Have you been involved in any women’s groups, too? Have you belonged to any women’s groups?
EW: Yes, certainly. I am a member in my area of the Excelsior Literary Club. We sponsor book reviews, we hold music study groups, we promote art, various types of art. We participate especially in visiting senior citizen’s homes, assisting the personnel, and our activities for that group.
AW: In your present occupation, are you teaching, or, presently, are you doing nursing, or . . .
EW: No. Presently, I am on the nursing staff of the Non-Mississippi Retirement Home, Grenada, Mississippi.
AW: Is there anything else you’d like to tell me, as to what you think of this convention? About the IWY meeting itself, and what’s happening here?
EW: I think that this was perhaps the greatest contribution that could have been made to the women’s movement. Our congress to create and found an observance like this, so that persons of all backgrounds, all ethnic backgrounds, economic backgrounds, and what have you, might come together. And out of this conference, I believe that the next five years will come the answers. And the problem is to solve problems which have existed the past two hundred years. Certainly, November 1977 will be a date in history which shall not be erased for many a year.
End of Interview