Jump to navigation
Mississippi - West Point: Bennie L. Turner Interviewee [Part 1]
Dent, Thomas C.
Tom Dent interviews Bennie L. Turner in West Point, Mississippi. Turner states that he was born the West Point and his mother is 3rd generation Clay County but his father comes from nearby Artesia County. Dent comments that there are a lot of small, unmapped Black communities in the area that date back to plantation times. Turner recollects that he went to the local Black high school, named 5th street, then went to a local community college for two years and transferred to Mississippi State in 1968. Turner recalls that there were about 15 other Blacks on campus at that time and that perhaps two had already graduated. Turner said he attended University of Mississippi for Law school and notes an air of superiority, even among the Blacks, in that student body. Turner states that he was the first to finish college in his family, his older 2 brothers and 1 sister went to the local community college, as did his mother, back when it was a high school. His mother became a factory worker and his father worked for a rail road company. Dent asks about Turner's experience at Mary Holms, the community college, and Turner said he would not have graduated the larger institutions without his time there. They were underfunded but had an outstanding faculty. Tuner comments that there were not many West Point community members at Mary Holms as a leftover of the Plantation mindset and a mistrust of people from other communities. Out of a student body of 600, Turner recounts that in 1962 there were 2 students from West Point at Mary Holms, and 3 in 1963, 2 in 1964 and 2 in 1965. When he attended in 1966 there were 6 attending the college. The rest of the students were recruited from the far south rather than the local community. Dent states that this dynamic changed with the civil rights movement. Turner says that he majored in political science with an emphasis on pre law. Over summers he worked heavy labor jobs for various companies. Turner states that he wanted to be a lawyer because he saw them on television. Before he attended law school he did not recall ever speaking to a lawyer, let alone a Black attorney. Turner says he grew up in Sniff Bottom, a Southern section of West Point of about 75 families, where the mail man refused to deliver the mail of the Black residents. There was a plan to relocate the Black families in that area by zoning the high school to be effectively segregated. Turner remembers the community fighting back and his mother, who he says was "active", considering contacting a lawyer. Turner comments that about 80% of the people in the area owned their houses. Turner comments spent time in Pascagoula and Houston after law school and considered staring his practice in either of those places but instead started his practice in West Point in 1975.Turner notes that the two big things that symbolize progress since he grew up in West Point was access to the Public Library and Tennis courts. Dent comments that West Point looks like it is prospering, saying that he sees more brick homes and cars than in previous years. Turner notes that Civil Rights were not as active in West Point as in other communities and speculates that might be due to the fat that the Blacks in West Point were not middle class and therefore had fewer resources.
African AmericansCivil rightsDesegrigationEducationLaw & legal affairsRace relationsSports
West Point (Ms.)Artesia County (Ms.)Pascagoula (Ms.)Houston (Tx.)
Tulane University Digital Library
Box 154, Item 5, Side 1, Tom Dent collection, Amistad Research Center at Tulane University, New Orleans, Louisiana
Physical rights are retained by the Amistad Research Center. Copyright is retained in accordance with U. S. Copyright Laws.