Billy Graham Center

Interview with Vera Mae Buckley Perkins - Collection 368

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Table of Contents

Brief Description of This Collection

Title Page and Restrictions

Biography of Vera Mae Buckley Perkins

An Essay on the Contents of the Collection (Scope and Content)

List of Audio Tapes in This Collection (Location Records)

Brief Description.
Oral history interview in which Perkins discusses her childhood, the importance of her Christian faith, marriage toJohn Perkins, involvement in civil rights demonstrations in Mississippi, and racial conditions in that state.

Collection 368 [April 26, 2000]
Perkins, Vera Mae Buckley;
Interview; 1987

1 Reel of Audio Tape


There are no restrictions on the use of this collection.


Vera Mae Buckley was born in New Hebron, Mississippi in the early 1930s. Her parents separated when she was five years old and she and her older brother went to live with her grandparents, who had a small farm. As a very young child, she used to play with a young neighbor named John Perkins. She lived an impoverished childhood. Her grandfather died when she was eleven and her grandmother often had trouble supporting the family. Every year the family would go to the Mississippi delta as a migrant worker to pick cotton. Because of this work, Vera usually didn't start school each year until about Thanksgiving. She and her brother moved to a dormitory in New Hebron when she was about twelve so that they could attend school there. At about this time, she gave her life to Christ during a chapel program at school. About a year later, the school consolidated with another. She then had to walk a mile and a half to catch the school bus and then ride twenty miles to the segregated school in New Hymn. Despite the difficulties, she never missed a day of school.

In 1949, she again met John Perkins when he returned to Mississippi for a visit from California, where he was then living. They began courting, mostly by letter. In 1951, John was drafted into the army. After finishing basic training he married Vera Mae. She continued to live with her family in Mississippi while he was stationed overseas at the army base in Okinawa. When he completed his military service in 1953, the Perkinses moved to Monrovia, California, where he worked as a janitor and later as a welder. Their first son, Spencer, was born in 1954. They had seven more children: Joanie, Derek, Wayne, Debbie, Philip, Priscilla, and Bettie.

John committed his life to Christ in 1957 while attending the Bethlehem Church of Christ Holiness. He and Vera immediately became involved in Christian witness to children with Child Evangelism Fellowship. John also became active in other Christian work, including preaching. Despite initial resistance from Vera, the Perkins family left California in 1960 to return to Mississippi, because John became convinced that he needed to carry on his evangelistic ministry in the community he had been raised in. The Perkinses first returned to New Hebron, where they lived with Vera's grandmother. They immediately began summer Bible classes for children. John further established his ministry in the community by holding Bible classes in the public schools in Simpson and surrounding counties. After six months in New Hebron, the Perkinses moved to Mendenhall, Mississippi, where they began holding Bible classes, Sunday school classes and Youth for Christ meetings for young people, and evangelistic tent meetings for the whole community.

Facing diverse human social, economic, spiritual, and political problems, the Perkinses began to develop a more wholistic ministry. At the same time the civil rights movement was expanding, they became more conscious of the human needs in the black community, along with the racism and injustice which sustained them. In 1964, John began to articulate his thinking on these issues and became a visible leader in addressing them. John and Vera founded the Voice of Calvary Bible Institute in 1964. In the following years they helped start churches, a child care center, economic coops, credit unions, and leadership training programs. Vera Mae became director of the first Head Start program in Simpson County. They were also very active in the effort to register blacks to vote and to integrate the local school system. In 1967 two of their children became the first black students to enroll in Mendenhall's previously all-white public high school.

In 1969, as Mendenhall whites responded to the growing black dissatisfaction evidenced in the civil rights movement, John, while jailed, called for a boycott of white Mendenhall businesses during the Christmas shopping season. In February 1970, heightened tension and frustration in the white community led to the arrest of picket marchers, and then through a police ambush, John himself, by a neighboring county's police. He was beaten repeatedly and was close to death before Vera Mae was able to get him released on bond. The stress related to his mistreatment by the police and the judicial system led to a heart attack and ulcers. Following John's hospitalization, the family therefore moved to Jackson in 1971, where John and Vera began VOC activities in that city, including housing projects, a church, a thrift store and a health clinic. In 1978, the work in Mendenhall became a separate organization, Mendenhall Ministries.

In 1981, John, while retaining the title President Emeritus, handed over the executive leadership of Voice of Calvary to Lem Tucker. In early 1982, the Perkinses moved to California, with Lem Tucker assuming Voice of Calvary's presidency. In 1982, John and Vera Mae relocated in Pasadena, California, where they established the Harambee Christian Family Center to assist poor urban blacks with Bible studies, vocational training, child care and other programs.

Scope and Content Note

Vera Mae Perkins was interviewed by archivist Paul Ericksen on June 19, 1987 at the Voice of Calvary offices in Jackson, Mississippi. The time period covered in the interview is from the 1930s to 1987. Time elapsed from the beginning of the interview is recorded in the column to the left of the column describing topics discussed. The interview is keyed to the cassette copy and not the reel-to-reel original.

Tape T1 - side 1
00:00 Start of Tape
00:30 Introduction
01:00 Childhood in Mississippi; parents' separation and going to live with her
grandparents; accepting Christ at the age of eleven or twelve; walking a mile and riding twenty to get to school; picking cotton in the Mississippi as a child; harsh treatment of the migrant cotton pickers; benefits from her experience
08:30 Influence of her grandmother; growing up as a second-class citizen
11:00 Description of worship services at the local church; the benefits of emotional
church services; problems with having a pastor who could only come once a month; first memories of John Perkins; John's return from California and they started courting; a recent visit to the place where they first got together; reflections on her life with John
19:00 Decision to move back to Mississippi to work there; saying yes to God's will; the naturalness of raising a family for Vera; willingness to serve; the importance of being a parent
25:00 The school system in Mendenhall prior to integration; how the system was integrated; suffering of the Perkins children; refusal of the school bus driver to cross the bridge to the Quarters; petty harassment by the police officer in the front of the school; other aspects of integrating the schools
35:00 Memories of the time in 1970 when John was arrested and beaten by the police; living in a community of need; counting the cost of involvement; bombing and other violence inflicted on the civil right demonstrators; doing what was necessary; Vera's involvement in planning meetings and demonstrations; the importance of singing freedom songs in encouraging her and others; examples of freedom songs
44:00 Description of the protest march after John was beaten; official and unofficial harassment of the march; courage in the face of threats
46:00 End of side 1

T1 - side 2
00:00 Start of side 2, duplication from side 1
04:30 Marching to the center of town past armed National Guardsmen; indifference to death; reflections on the attitudes of the Guardsmen; beginning of a new era; results of school integration beginning to be felt
10:00 Feelings of inferiority and sorrow caused by segregation; no scriptural basis for the suffering of blacks around the world; suffering will be forgotten in Heaven; the vanity of riches and the importance of knowing Jesus
15:00 End of side 2.


The tape of this interview was given to the Center by Vera Mae Perkins in June, 1987.

Acc. 87-77
March 5, 1990
Robert Shuster

Accession 87-77
Type of Material: Audio Tapes

The following item is located in the AUDIO TAPE FILE:

T1 Reel-to-reel tape, 3 3/4 ips, 57 minutes. Interview with Vera Mae Buckley Perkins in which she discusses her family background, conversion, education, work as a migrant laborer, marriage, involvement in the demonstrationss that integrated the school system of Mendenhall, Mississippi; June 19, 1987. One side.

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Last Revised: 4/26/00
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