Activity 2:

Interview with Ms. Jessie Guzman, a former colleague of Mr. Work:

“Some of the people who did these things thought it was un-christian to treat a black person as a person — for example, that it was un-christian to call a black woman ‘Mrs.’ [To them,] that was un-christian. ...So I was at the point, that I was wondering what kind of Christians they were.”

Jessie P. Guzman

 

In 1986 Stewart Tolnay, E.M. Beck, and James Massey, sociologists at the University of Georgia, began one of the first modern projects to create a master inventory of the victims of lynch mobs in the South — based on historical lists of victims published by the NAACP, Tuskegee University, the Chicago Tribune, and other sources. As part of that project, these three researchers traveled to Tuskegee to investigate the archives, and to interview Dr. Daniel T. Williams, Tuskegee Archivist, and Ms. Jessie Parkhurst Guzman.

 

Ms. Guzman was hired at Tuskegee Institute in 1923 as a research assistant to Monroe Work in the Department of Records and Research. Among her other duties, she assisted Mr. Work in compiling lists of lynch victims. From 1938–1944 Ms. Guzman was the Dean of Women at the Institute, and then in 1946 became the Director of the Department of Records and Research — a successor in her own right to Monroe Work’s legacy. She compiled and edited two subsequent volumes of the Negro Year Book in 1947 and 1952. Ms. Guzman retired from Tuskegee Institute in 1964.

 

On October 25, 1996, she died in Jacksonville, Florida at the age of 97. The following is a transcript of the interview that Tolnay, Beck, and Massey had with Ms. Guzman during their visit to Tuskegee in November of 1986. It has been condensed here to a shorter length.

 

Prof. Beck
Can you give us some background information about yourself?
Ms. Guzman
Well I’m... Are you thinking in terms of my work with Mr. Work?
Prof. Beck
Well, before that. Are you from Alabama?
Ms. Guzman
No, I’m from Georgia originally.
Prof. Tolnay
What part of Georgia?
Ms. Guzman
Savannah.
Prof. Beck
What brought you to Tuskegee?
Ms. Guzman
I came to work with Monroe Work. As you know he was director of the Department of Records and Research from 1908 until he died. Until 1938. And I came to work with him in 1923. And I worked with him until he retired in ’38. And then there was a 6-year period when I went into another department here at Tuskegee Institute, and I returned to the Department of Records and Research in 1944 and remained there until I retired in 1964.
Prof. Beck
Where were you in school before?
Ms. Guzman
I’m a graduate of Howard University.
Prof. Beck
Oh, you went to Howard? Okay.
Ms. Guzman
I’ve done some graduate work at the University of Chicago, Columbia and the American University at Washington.
Prof. Tolnay
Did you know Monroe Work while he was in Savannah?
Ms. Guzman
He was in Savannah and yes, I knew him. His wife’s family and my family were very good friends... before he came to Georgia State College... Georgia State College then, to work. That’s where I met him, in Savannah.
Prof. Tolnay
So you came to work with him on the project that he was [working on]?
Ms. Guzman
Well... he, as you know... Are you acquainted with the Negro Year Book? You’ve seen the information in there and the various editions. And you know that there were... the Negro Year Book was issued from 1913 until his death in, well, until.... Mr Work edited the Negro Year Book from 1912 until 1937-38. And he issued 13— he issued 11— no, he issued 9 [editions] and then there were 2 issued after his death. And I edited those two editions.
Prof. Beck
Well how did the... Okay. His responsibility was to just collect information dealing with blacks in the U.S. society?
Ms. Guzman
Yes, information on various aspects of Negro life.
Prof. Beck
in the general sense.
Ms. Guzman
And the Negro Year Book, as I said, began in 1912. That was the first edition. He came here at the request of, of course, Dr. [Booker] Washington. And his work was to assemble and disseminate information on the Negro. In fact, he was supposed to furnish not only the presidents of the Principal’s Office with data but to answer any questions that came to the Institute about the Negro life and the relations between the races. And he had a... Have you visited the department of the Archives?
[...]
Prof. Beck
Yes, we were there early this morning.
Ms. Guzman
Well, that was the former Department of Records and Research. Well, since.... Well, I have forgotten now exactly the year that it became the Archives. But since then, I think they have assembled all the data that was scattered in various departments of the Institute into this one area. This also includes the newspaper clippings and—
Prof. Beck
We looked at some of those very briefly this morning and we decided that we have to make another trip back, sit down and spend another day going through the records.
Ms. Guzman
There is a vast, amount of material and I assume from your stretch you are interested in individual accounts and relations in relation to each item.
Prof. Beck
How did the clipping [inaudible]...? Did people around just send things of interest to Tuskegee, and did someone—?
Ms. Guzman
No, there was for quite a while a clipping service. We assembled and, well, we subscri[bed] to newspapers ourselves– and we had a clipping service in the department.
Prof. Massey
Possibly there was a staff that read—
Ms. Guzman
Yes, there was a— well, not a big staff, but at least two persons who were in charge of clipping and filing of the materials and they were often student help. And in doing the same, I think there were from time to time, five or six persons on the staff.
Prof. Beck
In different places, I’ve noticed some comments about, the Chicago Tribune.
Ms. Guzman
Yes the Chicago Tribune, I think that the lynchings that were recorded in the Chicago Tribune were those, the first contracts I think that Mr. Work had in the area of lynchings. Because, as you know he was a student at the University of Chicago. And in fact a graduate of the University of Chicago.
Prof. Tolnay
Do you know how the Chicago Tribune gathered their information?
Ms. Guzman
No, no I don’t but I assume it was from the press or press releases.
Prof. Tolnay
It seems like that’s how they would have done it.
Ms. Guzman
I don’t remember hearing the manner in which they did that.
Prof. Massey
So is it your recollection that Tuskegee really began to take an interest in lynchings pretty much when Mr. Work took an interest in really systematizing and collecting?
Ms. Guzman
No, I think that Booker Washington was interested in it before Mr. Work came here. And in fact Mr. Work was referred to Dr. Washington by a Dr. Jones who worked at Hampton Institute, and Booker Washington himself was interested in the whole business of lynching before Mr. Work came.
Prof. Beck
Why did the Negro Year Book stop?
Ms. Guzman
Well, I think it was a matter of funds at one time. That they didn’t feel as if they had the money to do it. That’s the only explanation I have heard.
Prof. Tolnay
I think that I read that an effort was done to verify the lynchings if there was some confusion about whether one had actually occurred or not. Were there contacts that you had, like around the South, who would make an effort to verify?
Ms. Guzman
Well, there were some, but Mr. Work depended mainly on the newspapers as the source for his records. He did try to verify those where there was any disagreement among the press or press releases, but he made no effort himself to go out in the field and verify anything. He did have certain friends, you know, in various areas... who he could count on for a fact that he wanted to verify. It was not systematic, I mean for example, he did not try to verify each case by contacting persons. His sources were really the newspapers.
Prof. Tolnay
Are you familiar with the NAACP book called Thirty Years of Lynchings?
Ms. Guzman
Yes, there should be a copy in the Archives.
[...]
Prof. Tolnay
What is the relationship between those data and the data collected at Tuskegee. Is it one and the same?
Ms. Guzman
What do you mean? The NAACP records— I think Mr. Work used the NAACP records as long as those that he himself assembled.
Prof. Beck
Did he supply the NAACP with data?
Ms. Guzman
He did not supply them. If they wanted information concerning the cases he had, I think there were communications.
[...]
Prof. Massey
Tuskegee records were reported in the press.
Ms. Guzman
Yes, it was a release in the form of a letter. There were several thousand circulated annually on the beginning of the year. Then after lynchings began to fall off, the Institute decided they would discontinue [it] and begin what was called the Race Relations Report. And for about ten years, from 1953 until 1964— about 11 years— that report replaced the lynching report.
Prof. Beck
Did you have the sense that there may have been quite a few lynchings that never made it into the papers?
Ms. Guzman
Oh, I think so. I think that there were many of them.
Prof. Beck
We don’t have any sense of how much lynchings were underreported.
Ms. Guzman
No, I don’t think you would. I think it was generally thought that many occurred. And then many that couldn’t really be classified undear the definition of what was a "lynching". So I think they were just not reported because they could not be verified.
Prof. Massey
Given the sources that were coming in to Tuskegee in the form of the different newspaper reports... At the time, did you and Mr. Work and the staff in the Department of Records and Research have the feeling that if it was reported [somewhere], you were going to learn about it from the system you had set up for surveying the newspapers reports and Mr. Work’s own initiative to double-check and find out what he could...? Maybe that isn’t a very good question. I’ve seen different references to how very hard Mr. Work worked to be sure that the kinds of statistics and records that folks were keeping here at Tuskegee were as reliable and valid as you could make them.
Ms. Guzman
Well, he— As I said, he didn’t rely only on one source, if it appeared in one newspaper he tried to find whatever other sources to contact. And I think there were very few instances where his record was questionable. I do know that some times persons who were interested in lynchings would question his work. And I remember one instance— One person who did not agree with his record came and tried to persuade him to change it. But he would not change it.
Prof. Tolnay
What was it like to be working on this? Aside from just putting together information, this must have been a very emotional project to work on.
Ms. Guzman
Yes, Yes, of course.
Prof. Tolnay
I imagine it was a difficult time.
Ms. Guzman
Yes, well, in those instances it was just work. You did it. And I was particularly interested in how many women were lynched. And there were quite a few women who were lynched, and sometimes very gruesomely. And there were so many other problems that this was just one of those problems that was in existence then.
[...]
Prof. Beck
Well, at Tuskegee here during that period when you first came, was there much harassment of you and the people at Tuskegee [by] whites here and surrounding Counties?
Ms. Guzman
The only thing I heard when I first came was about the activities of the KKK. It was at that time that the Veterans Hospital had just been completed and there was a big controversy over whether it should be staffed by Whites or Negroes... and the KKK then came. And I think many of the prominent teachers on the campus and I think the Principal and some of the faculty members had to leave because there were threats against their lives. But since then, the KKK has marched, but I don’t think that there was any thought of them harming anybody. They would do some threatening things. I don’t think any of the people in this area were afraid. They would go out and look at them pass by. I think as far as I can remember, that was the only real tense situation in this community until, of course, much later.
Prof. Beck
Basically, you were left alone.
Ms. Guzman
That’s right. And, of course, there were a few whites in this community that did support the Principal of the school... that he could depend on them in an emergency. And, of course, that in itself was not on the basis of equality, but subordination.
[...]
Prof. Beck
You were certainly young when you started working here. How old were you when you started working here?
Ms. Guzman
24.
Prof. Beck
Was this your first full-time job after you completed school?
Ms. Guzman
No, I had worked 2 years in New York with my godfather as a sort of clerical typist, and that was the longest time I had worked. And then I came— Mr. Work at the time was looking for some one to help him with— At that time he was just starting the Bibliography, his real— He had just gotten money to help him with his bibliography and on that basis he employed [me]. He received money from the Carnegie Foundation and enough to pay someone to help him. And that is how I came down.
[...]
Prof. Massey
Did you work much with— I saw what looked like the original draft of the manuscript on the tragedy of lynching by Arthur Raper, and he was a research secretary for, I guess, the Commission on Interracial Cooperation out of Atlanta and—
Ms. Guzman
Yes, yes.
Prof. Massey
and I saw some of the draft copies, Mr. Williams showed us what looked like draft copies of what later became that book.
Ms. Guzman
He and Mr. Work were connected became [unclear] he came down to Tuskegee soon.
Prof. Massey
Oh, he did?
Ms. Guzman
Yes, I remember Mr. Raper very well. He and Mrs. Jessie Daniels Aimes were very closely related to Mr. Work with their interests.
Prof. Massey
Because I was thinking that, apparently from reading that book, the Commission on Interracial Cooperation, did have at least a small research staff that when they... this would be in the late ’20s and ’30s— they would actually send people out from time to time to where the actual site where there had been a lynching in the community.
Ms. Guzman
I think they did some of that, just like NAACP did.
[...]
Prof. Beck
One of the things that struck us funny, looking at these things – these charges that were made – is that, while a large part of them were for murder, there were a huge number that, were for a minor infractions of social norms.
Ms. Guzman
Yes, just looking too hard at a person or at a white woman or something.
Prof. Beck
[inaudible]
Ms. Guzman
Yes, who would think that you would be lynched for looking at someone.
Prof. Tolnay
Do you think that sometimes these real trivial reasons were given because there was some other motive? If the sharecropper was striking a deal with the landowner, or about to sell his crops, he might be killed and another reason given?
Ms. Guzman
I think that was possible, I really think that was possible.
Prof. Tolnay
So actually that might have shaped how the landowner and tenant interacted, because of the intimidation, the threat.
Ms. Guzman
I think so.
Prof. Massey
I would presume that during this period there were far more, or many subtler ways of intimidating a black farmer with the threat of violence or the threat of eviction from the land, or something of that sort. That could— I get the impression something of a landowner who was himself financially strapped, and one of the first places he might go to try to recoup his losses is to renege on his agreement with his sharscrappers or his tenants... And if push came to shove, there would be the threat of violence or the threat of eviction or the threat of harm of some sort— to cause the sharecropper to give up a larger percentage of their crop than they held original agreed to. Was that sort of thing normal?
Ms. Guzman
Well, I think that it was quite normal. The tenant did what the landlord wanted him to do. There was— I don’t think there was very much— very few of them had the ability to stand up to the landlord, what ever the landlord said, that’s what should be done. And the tenants did that. And if not, the landlord could do whatever he wanted to do: put him off the land, take whatever share of his crop that he wanted. The landlord always had the upper hand.
Prof. Massey
Moving from that, what, was the norm? Would landowners try to find a way to cheat a sharecropper or tenants? Or in the ordinary situation, were arrangements fairly honest and respectable, or was this very common practice to steal—
Ms. Guzman
Yes, it was a very common practice from what I have found. Read: the landlord was always right, and he could set up whatever terms he wanted to, and the tenant had no defense.
Prof. Massey
I imagine that black folks that were living in the communities and the cities were – by virtue of their employment – may have been insulated from that a little bit. They weren’t quite as dependent if you were a blacksmith or craftsman or owned a small grocery store or worked here at Tuskegee. You were insulated from that kind of exploitation on whim.
Ms. Guzman
Right.
Prof. Tolnay
One of the things that I think all of us have found interesting is, that here you had a religious Christian society that was engaged in such atrocious behavior as lynching. It seems like a real irony, and did it strike you that this irony existed? These were ‘good Christian people’ who were committing these acts?
Ms. Guzman
Some of the people who did these things thought it was un-christian to treat a black person as a person. In other words, you were getting away from his usual beliefs and behaviors and— for example, it was un-christian to call a black woman "Mrs." [To them,]that was un-christian. It was un-christian for a black person to want to sit in a seat that an ‘ordinary’ person would sit in — all of that was un-christian. ...So I was at the point, that I was wondering what kind of Christians they were.
Prof. Tolnay
It seems from my reading too, that the churches were very slow in coming around to condemn that behavior.
Ms. Guzman
Well, I think that the leaders of the church were as dependent on the community for their living as many of the tenants and so forth.... And if the community didn’t like the way he behaved, then he had to leave.
Prof. Massey
That’s true, a minister or preacher could be let go just about any time if he wasn’t serving the needs of his congregation.
Ms. Guzman
In our little town, there was at least one or two ministers who had to leave because their thinking was not in accord with the congregation. Here in Tuskegee.
Prof. Tolnay
On what issues were they at odds with the congregation?
Ms. Guzman
It was mainly on the— I’m thinking mainly of one Presbyterian minister here in town— he was considered far too liberal for the time, and so he just had to leave.
[...]
Prof. Tolnay
We certainly appreciate your willingness to talk to us.
Ms. Guzman
I’m glad if I’ve been helpful.

This interview was conducted in 1986 at the home of Ms. Guzman in Tuskegee, AL. Original transcript © 1986 by Dr. E.M. Beck and Dr. Stewart Tolnay and licensed by the authors as Creative Commons BY-NC-4.0. Give attribution to Beck & Tolnay and link to monroeworktoday.org

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ATTRIBUTIONS ON THIS PAGE:

Photo of young Jessie W. Parkhurst appears in The Campus Digest, 1 October 1938. Box 5, folder 11, Papers of Jessie P. Guzman, Archives, Tuskegee University, Tuskegee, AL. Photographer unknown.

Photo of Jessie P. Guzman, 1950, appears in Zeta Phi Beta Sorority Woman of the Year Banquet announcement, 1950. Box 5, folder 6, Papers of Jessie P. Guzman, Archives, Tuskegee University, Tuskegee, AL. Photographer unknown.

Photo of Jessie P. Guzman, c.1975, courtesy of the Archives, Tuskegee University. Photographer unknown.

Each of these photos has been included on this site under "fair use" for an educational purpose. Note all of these were retouched for artistic effect.