Collection # 366, T2. Interview of Lemuel Simpson Tucker by Paul Ericksen on June 18,
ERICKSEN: As I was reading Reverend Perkins’ books, he talks about the ‘Three R’s.’ Is there...which of those would you say that Voice of Calvary still has lots to go on and which is it, I guess, doing well at?
TUCKER: Well, from...let’s see. [pauses] Well, I...I guess I see all of them. I suppose that re...reconciliation and redistribution would be two that we need to grow in because even once we are in...under the same roof together, that...there’s still a...a lot of culture to counteract...culture and race to counteract. And it’s so easy to kind of go the line of least resistance in what we’re doing where you wind up playing out behavior of your old attitudes and things like that. And so, getting to the nitty-gritty of that is...is real hard. And then redistribution. How creatively are we providing alternatives for each other? The thing that I see in the first church in Acts, as well as what’s so imperative for us, is how do we so access the means of production that we really are in control over our living environment rather than our...our living environment being in control over us. And that’s one of the real problems the poor have. That they...they can’t get control of their environment. The car breaks down, house is sub-standard, no job, no education, whereas, I think, one of the real callings of the church is to get control over those things. And even if we are not poor, as it were, but we still don’t have control over it we’re still wasting more than we need to to really do more in the witness side of what we can do. So I’d say those two areas.
ERICKSEN: Can you think of any concrete examples of how Jackson is different with Voice of Calvary being here? You mentioned the one girl who...whose life got redirected.
TUCKER: Yeah, I think that there’d be so many ways, like if Jackson...I mean Voice of Calvary came in this community over ten years ago, and.... From 1920, when these communities, these houses were built...from 1920 to 1970, the h...the racial composition was one hundred percent white. Then from 1970 to 1975, it went from one hundred percent white to maybe thirty, forty percent white. And that’s when the community became devalued, it got rezoned, opened a lot of slum landlording. And what I’ve seen of other communities, if we had not been here, that this community would probably be eighty, ninety percent black, that it would...the property would be a lot more dilapidated and run down, so the city would max...mak...miss on tax bait [rate], the crime rate would be higher. There’d be a lot of problems like that that I think because we’re here would be one example of the difference. I think that we’re here...we’ve done...there’d be fifty homes or so related to our presence that have been renovated. Other people have looked, renovated their own homes. This area was a good area for NHS (Neighborhood Housing Services) to move into that has made probably over three or four million dollars worth of loans back into the community. And I would see all of those as tenuous if...if impossible had we not been here. So just the housing development, the quality of the housing stock would be one example. I’m sure lots of people decided not to move. We...I’ve...I know of two people...two white residents of the community that would have been...who lived here thirty, forty years who would say specifically that, that, “We...we owe our...our willingness to stay in this community to the presence of Voice of Calvary.”
ERICKSEN: [pauses] How...[keys fall] how much does Voice of Calvary depend on funds coming in from fund-raising efforts?
TUCKER: About seventy-five percent. We raise...we...we have revenue over the counter, you know, customers, et cetera, about twenty-five percent operation.
ERICKSEN: So that would be from the thrift store...?
TUCKER: Thrift store, PDI [People’s Development, Inc., a non-profit housing cooperative established by Voice of Calvary in 1975] , and the health center. Some limited other stuff like, you know, maybe a little bit from workshop fees or things like that, but mostly those three.
ERICKSEN: There’d...I’ve heard on the news recently, with all this talk about the...the PTL [Praise The Lord, television ministry of Jim Bakker] stuff [PTL was involved in financial and sexual misconduct scandals in 1987.] , that the donor base that all Christian organizations are going into is...is rather limited. Is your...are you finding your donor base growing or...?
TUCKER: Our’s [donor base] would be going through a natural attrition/addition type process, but, you know, the people...many of the people that give to PTL would never give to us. And so you’re really talking about different kinds of money, you know, that I should.... To...to the person that might donate money to Elvis Presley Reme...Memorial, I should never be upset and try to switch their giving to us, that it’s just wasted effort, or Crystal Cathedral [church ministry of Robert H. Schuller]. So it really is.... I...I don’t.... There’s not much of a parallel as we’ve seen between what’s happened with them.
ERICKSEN: We were talking at the very beginning about [person talks in background] the black church. Has it changed since you were a...you were growing up?
TUCKER: Well, not...not really in that it may have even gotten a little worse, because when I was growing up you could still see the battle line clearly in front of you. That is, preachers would talk about [something slides across table] racism, they’d talk about the need to get an education to overcome. You know, it was...I mean, it was like the days where the Civil Rights.... The...the 60's, in many ways, was still in front of us, or right in the middle of it, where it was still saying, “How do we overcome?” And now that [birds chirp, objects move on table] desegregation has come, in many ways it’s meant disintegration to the community because it’s allowed us to have a value system of the culture at large, to share in that value system without sharing in the production for that value system. So that [pauses] the black pastor would be in many ways like the white pastor who subtly, implicitly believes in a health and wealth prosperity-type Gospel. The difference is the white pastor has a church full of Ph.D.s and entrepreneurs and owners that own and control that production system, whereas the black pastor has a church [person talks in background] full of people that are...have jobs that work in those corporations that go out and are the consumers that keep that system going. So that it’s still...it’s...it’s from the geographical plantation to the economic plantation, and the black church, in many ways, is the key to get us...to be the Moses to get us off of that plantation. But they don’t see it.
ERICKSEN: [person laughs and talks in background] What...how have things changed for the white Evangelical church or the white church in general?
TUCKER: Well, the white Evangelical church has sought to become more socially involved. That is, it went from the ‘God is Dead’ movement to the ‘God is Alive’ movement, and now to the “We are the...we are the real preservator...real...we are the real preservers of the legitimate American heritage,” which is our country was founded by Christians and we’ve got to preserve that heritage. And so that’s the evolution that they’ve gone through, but all along it’s been an ethnocentric progression to whereby they’ve gotten involved politically, but only because they’re trying to defend a cultural value rather than a biblical value. So why is it because.... Okay, they say, “Well, pro-life is a biblical value.” Yes, but what about when it was my pro-life that was on the line in the Civil Rights movements? Where were you then? And it’s just, “Oh, well, we’re concerned about that.” Yeah, but no you weren’t because you were busy heading for the suburbs when we’re getting bit by German Shepherds and getting water hoses sprayed on us. You were saying, “Leave that to God. It’s the great hereafter that we’re after, not the here and now.” But now, here you are pro-life. Why? Well, because your daughters are getting pregnant and you don’t want that to happen any more. That’s so...it’s...that is really...it’s...it’s more like politicizing the Gospel and putting a Jesus overlay on the thing. So that’s the...the Evangelical church. [It] never had much of an identity beyond culture. When society was much more homogenous, it could pirate off of that, but [it is] still very insecure as a church, and...and theologically doctrinaire, but shallow.
ERICKSEN: How has racism changed in Mississippi?
TUCKER: From taking away the antagonism and the hostility and putting manners on it. A racial etiquette now exists [object rolls across table] where’s the disparity would still be just as wide. So rather than having Klansmen put on uniforms and say how niggers can’t do this and can’t do that, now it’d just be the Klansmen...I mean, it’ll be the businessman in his nice business suit that will be a part of a company that won’t be equitable to blacks as it would be to whites. And that’s just policy, and then he drives to the nice suburbs. So it’s more economic. It’s...it’s economic; it’s as devastating as ever, but a little bit more cash flow perhaps to make it easy with a...a few more manners on the face of it, a little bit more politeness about it.
ERICKSEN: What form would the good manners take?
TUCKER: We could go together in almost any restaurant around, and we’d not get beat up or thrown out. But that black people would own any more restaurants or that white people would patronize black restaurants any more than they did thirty, forty years ago, it wouldn’t make...it’d be about the same. So we, you know...they take my dollar now, which is what I fought for, but I’m still just as economically vulnerable as I was twenty, thirty years ago.
ERICKSEN: On one of my earlier visits here to Jackson we were talking about a festival down on Lynch Street. Could you talk a little bit about Lynch Street [object drags across table], and then about the festival?
TUCKER: The fes...the festival was an attempt at renaissance, community renaissance, hope in the community. So that the Lynch Street Festival was a festival to just give some visibility to life in that community and to be a platform with which to speak positive values back to that community and as a church to be providing that kind of leadership. It was really by our act, by our behavior, saying that we’re committed to this community and we want to take the leadership and helping to provide some of the renaissance and turnaround for this community. So that’s what it...what the purpose behind it was. And it was my wife, Eleanor, who had...had a founding participation, development, influence, organization of it. And it came out of our living in the area whereby we said that people are so depressed, what they really need is some kind of hope. And this was just the way that we thought we could make it a regular thing to give hope. And so that’s what...what we did, and we would have gospel groups and church groups, politicians come in and speak, vendors be able to sell things that vendors from the community or other communities could.... Like if they had a unique restaurant in the community it’d be kind of a chance to advertise it. So it was a...something for the community and of the community which is just a very key thing in terms of providing dignity and hope for a community as to really have something native to that community get established and operating.
ERICKSEN: What is the Lynch Street well known for?
TUCKER: Depends on who you talk to. But [ people laugh in background] John Roy Lynch was a politician, who, as a Mississippi politician, during Reconstruction times was a...a statesman ahead of his time. [Lynch served as a black representative of the Mississippi legislature (including as Speaker of the House), United States congressman and military officer from Reconstruction into the twentieth century.] And so the street’s named after him. But it’s in one of the worst poverty, drug areas of the city. So it, you know.... Most people in the city, they would say, “Well, that’s a place you don’t want to go.” So to really know the people, though, there’s a lot of hope there, a lot of old black businesses are there. And so it really becomes not a matter of its lack of value, but its potential for development. And so that’s were trying to work on now. One of our housing programs now that’s going on is...is major housing program going on in that area there and it’s part of our commitment to the development of that community.
ERICKSEN: [pauses] [object drops and rolls on table] How...how much would you say the...the black community is aware of and feels a sense of ownership of Voice of Calvary?
TUCKER: [Object moves across table] Not much in Jackson other than the people that work and own it. I mean the.... Say like the various projects and programs that people would be involved in like Thriftco [Consumer Cooperative, a thrift store run by Voice of Calvary]. A lot of people feel that this is their store and they have pride in it that it’s something of the community, for the community, by the community. People in PDI would, you know...who are in the houses of PDI. [people talk in background] But I...I guess Voice of Calvary, in many ways, is more of a concept or parent, hub of things, that is really trying to inspire a lot of other things that are...that’s going on.
ERICKSEN: Any...anything else you would like to delve into?
TUCKER: I can’t think of anything, Paul.
ERICKSEN: That’s not a very specific question to answer [both laughing].
TUCKER: No, I...I can’t think of anything.
ERICKSEN: Well, thank you very much for...
ERICKSEN: ...for taking the time to talk.
TUCKER: Well, thanks for coming down. How’s your time in Mendenhall [Ministries in Mendenhall, MS, a ministry in rural Mississippi that birthed from Voice of Calvary]?
ERICKSEN: Hasn’t been yet.
TUCKER: Oh, okay. You’re still on the front end of it then. Okay.
END OF TAPE