This is a complete and accurate transcript of the oral history interview of John M. Perkins (CN 367, #T2) in the Archives of the Billy Graham Center. No spoken words have been omitted, except for any non-English phrases which could not be understood by the transcribers. If the transcriber was not completely sure of having gotten what the speaker said, "[?]" was inserted after the word or phrase in question. If the speech was inaudible or indistinguishable, "[unclear]" was inserted. Grunts and verbal hesitations, such as "ah" or "um" were usually omitted. The transcribers have not attempted to phonetically replicate English dialects. Readers should remember that this is a transcription of spoken English, which, of course, follows a different rhythm and rule than written English.
This interview was originally recorded in one sitting on cassette tape and later transferred to reel-to-reel tape. The tape divisions between the cassettes were not maintained on the reels. A note indicating where cassette tapes were changed during the interview is indicated in the transcript.
... Three dots indicate an interruption or break in the train of thought within the sentence on the part of the speaker.
.... Four dots indicate what the transcriber believes to be the end of an incomplete sentence.
() Words in parentheses are asides made by the speaker.
 Words in brackets are comments by the transcriber.
This transcription was made by Christopher Easley and Paul Ericksen, and completed in October
Collection 367, #T2. Interview of John M. Perkins by Paul A. Ericksen on June 19, 1987.
PERKINS: I...I think that we have a...again, I think that we have sort of organized sin to be so light and there's so many mistakes that it's not even necessary to ask fo...to go through a process of forgiveness. There's no need for repentance. And...and...and so sin is covered over too lightly. And so, I...I...I...I...I...and I...and...and...I...I think because of that, too, we don't have the vibrant energy that we need because we don't sense that we've been forgiven. You understand? So that...I think when you can sense that you've been forgiven, I think it give you a new energy to go forward in...in...in...in life. And so I...I...I think that I...on that hospital bed, I think, going through that period, that I needed the forgiveness of sin to enter back into the world with a...with some push to make a difference in society. That was a hard process for me. It was a hard [pauses].... Now I said hard. It was [pauses]...it was a process. It was a process that didn't take place in a day. It was a process that took place in.... And as I said in a [pauses]...what helped me was there was people in the hospital who worked with me, who were my two doctors and others, who worked with me and helped me go through a very difficult period in my life. And [pauses] it was a white doctor (lady) and a black doctor, and they...they helped me a lot.
ERICKSEN: This maybe isn't the question that will be answered in four minutes, but maybe we could at least start talking about what kind of role your wife played in your family's ministry during the 60's and 70's?
PERKINS: She played the...there wa...she played a...the biggest role. She took...my wife played a big role. She played the role of a strong tough caring mother, and a mother of provision, who cares for her kids, and who.... She was a strong disciplined person in terms of her kids. She [pauses]...she also supported me. She believed strongly in me, and it wasn't...it wasn't until I be...our ministry began to grow that she didn't totally support my ideas. But as the ministry began to grow, she began to bring her wisdom, support to it, and began to say no to my ideas. That even supported me greater, in the sense that I'm an idealistic person, and...and is ready to move off on...charge off, and I won't charge off without her and she says no to everything first. But...but in the early days while the ministry was developing, there was not all of these ideas. There was the one big idea...that was the one idea that she always supported. Then as...as...as we was talking, then as all these ministries began to develop, she began to say, "No, no, no, no, don't do that," which...which was a...which was a very good...good thing. Sometime I don't think she said no even enough, as I look back at it now.
ERICKSEN: Can you think of an example where you were ready to bolt off on something and she said no?
PERKINS: Well, I think they would be things like...they would be initiatives, they would be early things. Like, I would say, "We ought to buy this farm," and she would say, "No." I'd say...I'd say, "We ought to buy this Greyhound bus," (I mean, it's that kind of thing), and she would say, "No." You know, I think it was those kind...I...I don't...it was...it was never a blossomed thing. It was noth...never something that blossomed that she said no to. It was always at a blossoming stage. That's where she [pauses].... I...I will think about something before it's even ready to blossom and...and I will talk to her about it and she'll say no. So it'd never become necessarily a public thing that she'd say no too, it's something that [pauses]..that before it develops that much.
ERICKSEN: A good place to stop.
[Interview momentarily stopped, perhaps in order to switch tapes.]
PERKINS: ...is it...are you...you gonna check it? [unidentified noise]
ERICKSEN: I'll just get it going as we go.
ERICKSEN: [Jet flies overhead] When did Voice of Calvary become a formal organization?
PERKINS: Okay. It was a...it...it had several shapes too it. Number one is, we got organized sorta as a church, as Voi...as Berean Bible Church about 19 and...somewhat in 19 and [pauses] '64. Okay? We began to come [?] some kind of a shape. We...may...our first formal organization was called the Voice of Calvary Bible Institute. That was never unincorporated [sic], but we had checks account...checking accounts and stuff like that. Then we created the church in...in about 1964. And then we tried to get it incorporated, and the governor of the State of Mississippi would not incorporate us [laughs]. And then we joined with the NACP [sic, National Association for the Advancement of Colored People] and some other organizations, and brought suit against the governor, and [pauses]...and then, we was [pauses]...won that suit. And we was one of the [pauses]...one of the [pauses]...the few incorporated legitimacy church [?].... Churches in Mississippi assume incorporation without being incorporated. All you had to do was get organized and you did not have to corporate...incorporate. And so they...they thought they was incorporated. They was incorporated, they'd met all the standard because churches don't have to meet in any reg...standard. But they wasn't really from a legal national point of view incorporated. So we was incorporated, which means that...in fact we...we [laughs] received [pauses] a set of federal grants through our church, because we were a legitimate incorporation. So that was...about 19...1968 then when we became really [pauses] an ongoing incorporation. Then (that was the church)...then we...then we functioned then a...we created Voice of Calvary Ministries that functioned under the church, but was...had no...all receipts was receipted on the basis of the church incorporation. And so at the end of the year you would receive a receipt based upon the church. Then in 19 and [pauses] '72 or '73 three we incorporated then officially as Voice of Calvary Ministries. And then from that time on we began to function as a ministry. And then about that same...nineteen sixt...[pauses] seventy-four, I guess we organized PDI [People's Development Incorporated], which is our largest corporation. But when I say the largest corporation in terms of [pauses].... I guess in every way now it would be the largest, but in terms of [pauses]...of assets, the assets is really in houses that we manage. I don't...I really don't know the...the...the...the assets of PDI, the paper assets of PDI, but it would be pretty...it would be...I guess it would be pretty substantial [pauses] in that. And then, of course, we organized, I guess, the next one. We organized one...one corporation that we...that we [pauses] killed and that was a corporation we called Subdue. It was a...it was a for-profit corporation and my...my...my idea was to have a...a for-profit corporation and a non-for-profit corporation, and that...and they both would be owned by [pauses] Voice of Calvary Ministry. PDI would be our non-for-profit corporation that would deal in houses. Subdue was to be our for-profit corporation and that would allow us to have a greater amount of leverage with lending institutions. And so I was running that thi...I was running it. And...and it had...so we could...because they was sort of running sorta interchangeable, somewhat, I could create a good record for...a good financial record for...for Subdue, in terms of if we bought a house, I would decide on what house we were gonna buy with Subdue. And...and if we bought a house, like for ten thousand dollars, and remodeled that house and it was worth [pauses] now forty or fifty thousand dollars, I would put that in Subdue, so we could use that for bank loaning and that kind of stuff. That was the kind of thing that I wanted to...to do to give us leverage, because some banks won't deal with non-profit corporations, and...and they just deal with hard cold financial [pauses] cash, so [pauses]...you know, a good financial statement. So that's what I planned' do with it. But then, as...as...when I left the...when I got ready to leave, when I knew I was gonna to leave the corporation, [pauses] a lot of the board members always [pauses] did...did not understand, could never understand why so many corporation. You know, like the Health Center's a corporation, PDI's a corporation, Voice of Calvary Ministries' a corporation, Subdue is a corporation, Mendenhall is a separate corporation, Thriftco was a corporation. They could not understand why we had all of those corporations. And so [pauses] we did and began to look at the ones that we could get rid of without much trouble and Subdue was one of those. Yeah.
ERICKSEN: How did you go about fund raising back in the early days?
PERKINS: Back in the...in the early days there was [pauses]...we never formalized fund raising as a...as a...as a development concept until [pauses] about 19 and '76. So it was just sorta like the word of mouth. We didn't...friends, churches would hear about us and would give to us. There was nothing formalized. It was not a whole lot expected. It was just sort of a...the fact that we were doing the ministry and if people wanted to get involved it they'd get involved in it. It went on that way for...until...until about 19 and '76, '75, '76, H. Spees and a guy named Ed McKinley came onto my staff, and 'n fact we worked out of this room right here, and did a lot of our development work in this room right here. And, 'n fact, this was more or less sorta the development office. And...and...and we started then to [pauses] sorta formalize on what was informal. And we got a [pauses]...a development company to come in and to look at our history, look at our past, and then to sorta chart a proposal for the future. And we then began to sorta work off in that development proposal, with me being the...sorta the speaker. And... and...and we then got a...me an appointment secretary, who would...who would coordinate the appointments. And...and...and...and...and H. and...and Ed McKinley would...would travel with me in...in...in speaking. It sorta...sorta became formal. From that we tried then to create a ('cause I was working so hard doing that)...we then decided we'd try to create a speakers team and we'd put certain people on that speakers team. We'd make up a official brochure that when p...we would send it out and try to get people to select one of those speakers to come and to speak. It...I think it...it...I think it...it worked. It did not work as perfect as we wanted it to work, but now that we look back at it in perspective, what did happen was...was we broadened the base of people who then could go out and begin to speak. It did not work perfect like we wanted it to, but...but...but all of those folks who was on that team, or most of them, finally arrived at being acceptable speakers out there. Dolphus [Weary] on it, Lem [Tucker] was on it, John Thomas was on it, and H. [Spees] was on it, and that kind of thing, and so it...it...it sorta somewhat worked.
ERICKSEN: This is shifting gears a little bit, but can you tell me about R.A. [Robert Archie] Buckley? You talk...refer to him a little bit in your books.
PERKINS: Yeah. He...Mr. Buckley...the background to him was.... [Pauses] When I first went to Mendenhall, I was [pauses]...had opened a little s...a little storefront building that I used sorta as my [pauses] official office building to...to put my flannel graphs and stuff together, and also start holding some little meetings there, Bible studies there. And Mr. Buckley was a peddler. Every Saturday morning he would bring his eggs and butter and milk into town and he had his regular customers who he sold it to. And...and so [pauses] I was...as he came through the quarters [area south of railroad line running through Mendenhall in which blacks resided] that day, he...somebody told him about...we was out there...I guess he came in to sell his milk or to find out who was there, that was...we would probably become a pers...a prospect for his butter and stuff. As so we started to talking a little bit, [pauses] and...and started talking about Christian things. And he was [pauses]...well, really it was a strange thing because right away, you know, usually you wouldn't have thought of somebody like him, of being a...a sorta a distinguished person, but right away I knew he was a distinguished person. And...and then he kept coming back by there, and then he started to giving my wife [pauses] milk. He found out how many kids we had and what we was doing, and he started giving my wife eggs and milk and stuff. And it was a big...it was a big thing for him because that was his main source of livelihood and he was giving that to us. And...and then he invited me to come out to his...he...no, I invited him to come in to some of our Bible studies. And...and then we started going out to his farm. And then he...he gave Vera Mae the use of a milk cow. And...and so our friendship.... Then he wanted me to have a...to come out on a Saturday morning and pick him up and bring him into town to sell his [pauses]...you know, to put him out and sell his merchandise. And I would do that because on a Saturday morning, what I would do, especially on a Saturday morning, I would [pauses] do Bible study. I mean, I...that's when I would prepare my talks and stuff. And...and so it wasn't bad for me to go up.... He would do it in the morning; I'd go pick him up in the morning. I'd carry my Bible and notebook and stuff with me. And so when he would stop and go in the house, I would just keep on reading. But then on the other hand, I would [pauses]...when, in the afternoon, I would go off in the woods and...and...and read anyway. So Saturday morning was a very slow time and it was good to be with him. And...and our friendship just grew. And then I...then he wanted us to have a...a farm out there where he is. And then when we started our leadership development program, he'd say we ought to try to make money, so we planted cucumber on his fiel...farm, and corn. We started farming his farm. And...and...and...and the relationship just grew and developed. I guess the [pauses]...he was (to put it mild, I guess, 'cause to explain him is something you couldn't...I couldn't do that well unless I'm gonna write a book)...he was the smartest man I ever met. He had [pauses] more wisdom and more smarts than any...than any human person that I ever met. Now, if you would meet anybody who knew him [pauses], and you know, it would be stran...you know, it...it sounds strange for me having met presidents and ambassador and senators and congressmen and queens and those kind of people around the world [unidentified noise], and lawyers and doctors and all those kind of thing, to say that. But if...almost everybody who have met him and got to know him, be...besides seeing an old decrepit man as he got older, they.... You might not see that your first time around, you...you... you know, but if you had been around him for a while, you would end up realizing that he was the...he was the most brilliant man who was a farmer that you ever met, and that who...who only...you can only account for his wisdom from the fact that he walked with God, that he had a relationship with God. And I...you know, his...and his relationship with God is [sic] never a perfect relationship. He would be one to tell you that. But...but his mind and his heart and his commitment and his thoughts was [pauses]...and his life, his farm, was all related to God. And [unidentified noise]...his...he would...if...if he was still alive and you...you interviewed him, [pauses] it would have been a good interview because he would have said that...that he started Voice of Calvary Ministries. He would say it this way, he would say that me and him started it. Now he would emphasize the fact that I was a main actor, but that he would emphasize, in a way, that it wouldn't have been a show apart from him. I mean, and...and he would have said it not in some kind of a way were he would have belittled me. Neither would he have said it in a way that you would have too...saw him as an arrogant fellow, but he would have been saying it in...in such a factual way. He would have made you understand why the role that he played, and that he was able (and I give him credit for that)...that he saw what I did not. See, he knew the implication of what we was doing and I didn't, you see. I just...I thought that we were sorta moving through, winning some people to Christ, the possibility, helping some people, and that would be a period in history we would deal with and that would be over with. I think Mr. Buckley understood the...the implication and lived with the...the possibility of a massive impact. So...so I think he...he looked... because...let me...let me see how I can illustrate it. [pauses] To illustrate that, when... when we got ready to come to Jackson [pauses].... See we would share everything with him. He was on the...the board of directors [pauses]...or the board of elders at the church consisted of three or four of us, and Mr. Buckley was the kingpin [pauses] of that. Of course, it was heavily driven by me, but I...but Mr. Buckley was the...was the real kingpin. And so we would never make any decisions without his...without sharing it with him for his wisdom. I mean in the process we shared it with his wisdom, so that his wisdom would come in the process. It wasn't a matter of voting yes or no on something, but it was really trying to see is "Do [?] this make sense?" And...and we went out and talked to Mr. Buckley about moving to Jackson and he didn't like it, in the sense that he knew I would be leaving, and...and that he was just seeing the thing begin to develop in Mendenhall, and with me leaving, he saw that as a...as the...as something a little bit like at least one of the spark plugs being taken away form the engine. And...and so he said, "Let's talk about it. What are you gonna to do?" And we told him about the possibility of us going to Jackson and trying to create a [pauses]...a movement, a ministry that would be a movement. And [voice from session in adjacent room in background]...and he said, "Well." He said, "Well, let's take a look at what has happened here already." And he said, "We have been here now for [pauses] about eight or nine years, ten years." And he could say, "Now [pauses], what has happened here now is that we have sowed a seed, we have planted a seed, and it takes time for that seed to grow and develop." He said, "But what we want to do in J...what you guys need to do in Jackson, if you in..." and he began to interpret for us what we ought to do and telling us what we...and you know, we shared with him what we was gonna do. He took that over then and began to share with us what it ought to be. You know, he said that "What you ought to do when you get to Jackson..." he said, "that will become a seed bed from which you pick up plants and send those plants around the United States and even around the world." And that became the...the pattern that we began to use and I think that's the pattern we try to use now, is that we try to bring people here. And our...and our...and our original idea was that folks would come here and stay long periods or short periods, but our commitment to them would be what we know here. And that they would take what we...what they would learn here from the principles that we were using, and that they would then in turn plant those principles in other parts of the country. And that has been the wor... method and that has really [pauses]...has really worked. When we got here in town, we...we started something like a [pauses]...a Bible institute somewhat. But the idea was that we would crystalize what we was doing and that we would teach what we was doing, and that's...and that has continued and that's what this is about in here [referring to session being conducted in adjacent room], is...is teaching.... I...I [pauses]...I [chair squeaks]...I think that I'm...you know, even being here this time, I...I see some places, I think we can improve on...on this teaching here, and I think they're already moving in that direction, so it'd just really be an encouragement to them. Number one is any staff...new staff member, who come on the staff have to take these courses, and so there...part of the people out there are new staff members, which is excellent. My wife was sharing me this morning, another thing that we ought to come up with ways of...of teaching this Christian community development as a part of a Sunday curriculum of the church. And I don't know if anybody ever thought about that, you know...you know, nobody would have ever thought about the idea of taking the community develop...taking this manual here [rustles pages of manual] and making this a Sunday school manual, and...and teaching it in the Sunday school, you...you...you know. And...and so every new member that would come would...as they would come...and there it be an ongoing part of the teaching ministry at he church. And maybe every...every [pauses]...you could...you could use it with the new converts, but also could use it with [pauses]...in terms of...of [pauses]...of...of preaching about every [pauses]...you know, do a series on it from the pulpit, 'cause that's what I always used to do. That's...I always used to [pauses] teach [pauses] our philosophy of ministry as a part of the preaching and teaching, and [pauses] which...I don't know whether many churches do that or not. They do it in some kind of...I think they do it in some kind of a [pauses].... I don't know if they do that or not. Cults might do it. Cults might do it. I'm saying, I...I...I don't know whether peoples teach their philosophy of ministry as a part of the Sunday morning worship experience, which I think that it ought to be, I think...I think, that if it's a wholistic Biblical ministry. And I think that makes a difference between whether or not that church is an action church or whether it just become a self-centered worshipping congregation, and I think most churches are sorta self-centered worshipping. They...they see the...they see the church as "meeting my need, meeting my need," and they don't...they don't...and the church don't have too much of a...a ministry, and a concept of ministry, and a philosophy of ministry, and a statement of mission to the world. They don't...they don't have much of a [pauses]...of a mission to the world. It's just primarily, "You come here on a Sunday morning. Our church is growing and developing and we're happy" and...and that type of thing.
ERICKSEN: That's good enough.
ERICKSEN: You talk in your books about the redistribution, relocation and reconciliation. How have those worked out here? Was there something that Voice of Calvary's doing...one of those three that's working better than the others?
PERKINS: Oh, I...yeah...well, they [laughs] hopefully all are working at some phase, and at some time and...and I think they all have to work together with some sense of balance in orders for it to work. So I...I think it's not a single problem that reconciliation in one thing and relocation is one thing and redistribution is one thing, and that...and that one works better that the other one. I think we have to look at them as working as a whole all the time...
ERICKSEN: I guess I.... I'm sorry, go ahead.
PERKINS: So...so [voice in background, chair squeaks] that for ministry to begin and to function you've got to have that relocation concept. That is built into our educational program with our young people, that they...we recognize the fact that they cannot get all of the education they need within the community. So the idea is that once they go off to college they got to relocate, they got to come back to the community, they got to come home. That's relocation, coming back home. The other thing about that then is people who live in the other parts of a...even of the city will then relocate and come here to live. Then folks who are living in other parts of the United States and the world will relocate and come here to live. So that [pauses] if you look at our staff, our staff reflects that. You look at the health center, you look...you look...you see local people, you see national people. You look at [pauses] PDI, you look at [pauses] all the phases of the ministry, you'll find that. So relocation is working, and that we do have a location, and that we concentrates on location, and that we try to do things concentrated. We concentrated for years, when I was here, on this community, with a little concentration down where...down in the heart ghetto area. We established our church down there. [Pauses; voices and laughter in background] So relocation worked. We've always...reconciliation.... H. Spees and myself, H. was white and I'm black, of course. We started this ministry together, and we spent a whole winter right here in this room here talking and planning and...and thinking, and you know, doing little side ministry, having some Bible clubs, but during the day we...we...we sorta would close up in his room here and...and talk about what we were gonna to do. And...and so that I work here, you see, we intentionally wants to be black and white together. We're intentional. I mean, it's...there's no...it's no...this is no accident. It's no accident that Phil [Reed] is [pauses]...is accepted as the...as the...as the pastor of the church. Did anybody tell you how he became pastor?
PERKINS: H. Spees and myself and...and Herbert Jones, and there was about [pauses] ten or twelve or fifteen other key people of the...of the local community here, and we met here in this room. And this room would be pretty full on a Sunday morning for worship. It wasn't [pauses] as big as this now, it wouldn't be that...that large, but it was...be...it would be full. And so [pauses] the people began to complain so much about we was doing PDI, we were doing other things, but we really didn't have no time to nurture these folks. They would have their little problems and they wanted to talk to people about their problems. You...you hear what I already said about my counseling. [laughs] So I didn't have no time for their counseling, I had mother...other things that are more important to do than to counsel with them, [pauses] I thought, you understand. And so we [pauses]...and then there was a leading and a worship service. There was all that kind of stuff. And so we met. We began to meet weekly to formalize a leadership structure for our church here in Jackson, for our fellowship. We call it a fellowship. And...and...and so we decided then...we had some...some elders already. We had formalized that much. And...and Phil was one of the elders, I think, and another boy named McClain [?] was one of the elders. And...and in this meeting we spent...in fact, we got a consultant to lead these meetings for us, and we began to...that's what we got a consultant, to lead these meetings. And [pauses]...and...and so it was in evidence that we needed a pastor, and that H. and I was acting as pastors already, and we was the kingpins, and we didn't want to be kingpins, and so we then selected in this meeting as a group who would be...who would be the best fitted to counsel the people and to be the pastor, who had our greatest amount of respect, which I look back at it, I see that as a good thing. Who had our greatest respect? And so we selected Phil, and...and [pauses] the McClain boy in the church [voice in background]. And they were sorta to be co-like pastors. And the McClain guy left, and went to college to work on a PhD, and [pauses]... and Phil was left and there was the elders, and Phil fitted in then as the...as the pastor. And so it was never any thought of anybody else being that, you know. And every once in a while, in those early days, there would develop in the church, these tensions between Phil being a white, and...and the ministry being pro-black, with the reconciling as an aspect. But...but I would always say that the way Phil arrived at the leadership role, there was no...there was no black and white issue in the way we arrived at it, and so we would keep it that way, which has been good. So reconciliation has been built in and I think it functions. Redistribution, I think is [pauses]...has been a part of it, as we went along. You asked me about the fund raising. I see the very fact that people have always shared some of their resources with us, to help make what we were doing possible.... I think we have sorta have formalized that in our development aspect of it, in going out and...and...and...and...and asking people to share with us, and also bringing churches down here. So I think that the...in [pauses] when a church come down here... like a work group come down here and work, to a sense they come down, that...you could almost say that's relocation, in the sense that they relocated and came down here. While they was here working, there developed a relationship and all. We always considered meeting with the groups and talking with the groups, and interacting with the groups is sharing our lives with them. And [pauses]...and...and there's a group here now where a white church and a black church joined together out of a...over in a...in Waco [Texas] and come over here together. And...and so that's reconciliation on their part, and reconcil.... But also, we ask those groups to bring money with them because we really don't have enough money to keep them working. That's the way we started off. We would say, "If your group is gonna come down and help work on a house this summer, we don't have enough money to keep your group working, 'cause you'd bankrupt us, buying enough paint for you to paint. So you need to bring enough money to buy the paint for your group to work." And so [pauses], you know, that redistribution has been built right into the system. And I think Thriftco...we came up with ways. How could we help people in the community to own their own enterprise? So Thriftco is a cooperative enterprise, that when people join there cooperative, they're becoming part ownership in that [pauses]...in that enterp...part owners of that...of that enterprise.
ERICKSEN: We were just talking about volunteers, and one thing that I came across when I was reading With Justice for All, you're talking about...I guess it was the first summer that you had volunteer...volunteers working together. It talks about white volunteers coming from the sum...from the suburbs, I think this...I guess it was shortly after Dr. King's death, and you said, "It didn't work. It was disastrous." What happened that summer?
PERKINS: Okay. We had two situations. We had some young volunteers form Michigan that came down from the university, and these was very, radical, militant, black young people, who came down here that summer. Okay? Okay, then we had, that same summer, we had a fundamentalist church in...in...in California, John McArthur's church, John McArthur Jr.'s church, a very fundamental church. They came. Well, nobody was ready for that. I mean, these...these...Martin Luther King's just been killed. [pauses] There was a radicalism in the air, there was a radicalism even in Mendenhall. It was '69, I guess. That would be '69, let's see, yeah. And...and so that [pauses] what had always been a good experience for students living together, those non-Christian black militant kids trying to live with those white, non-aware suburban white kids.... I mean, just the language...I mean, you know, just the communication was [pauses] bad. And so it was...it was a disaster. And...boy, everyday I...you know, you wanted...again, you know like, for me as a person who'd...who would never say that our program have [pauses] failed, so we were gonna go through that summer with that thing and so we did go through with it. But it was a...boy it was like the day that was over with, it was a [pauses].... I mean we had fights, all kinds of stuff. In the difference in philosophy. These fundamental kids wanted to organize the kids to sing and to...you know, to do nice things which was wonderful. These militant guys wanted to turn them into para-mili...militants, to organize them to...to...so they could become [pauses] a cadre of [pauses] young folks and learn discipline so they could become military peoples to eventually [pauses] overthrow this government [laughs]. It was a...it was a...it wa...here I was in the middle of all of this, and I...I was...in the middle of all of this, and the fact that I'm the person who put all this together, you...you see, so....[laughs, background laughter from adjacent room]. And that there's been a custom of mine. I mean, I've...I've had a...I've had a...I've had a...had a record of...a history of...of trying to do things that...that was impossible, and bringing th...people together. But I think it was also the beginning of a [pauses]...of a...of shaping a philosophy that was more [pauses]...more wholistic. I think that we could see that...that...that...that [pauses] fundamentalism and its "Jesus saves only" type deal was not radical enough for the problems that we was dealing with, and that people did need training, they did need skills, they did need jobs. So...so I...I...I really think that we was able to see that just being merely fundamentalist Bible believing Christians, which we are, but to do that in the fundamental sense of the word and to use the same style and to use the same method that suburbia churches use, was not adequate for the problem that we have down here, [pauses] you know. So I think all of that as you look back at it, it all probably worked together for good, and because we then started to shaping [pauses] summer programs that was...that was more balanced. But we never...we never got away from the Bible, we never...that's what created the conflict. We never got rid of the...rid of the Bible, and that we never got rid of [pauses] job-making. So we stayed at the...we kept the most important elements, I think, that need to be kept in our...in our...in our development. We never made our summers all...you know, we look at our youth for...to young folks. These are jobs; to us they are jobs. They are chances for young folks to learn some basic ideas about work. They are many times showing their skills, they're teaching, their doing things. So it's not...you know, looked upon as a pretty solid business enterprise, sorta the way we look upon it. I think that most Christians would not want to look upon it that way. They would say that business is something else. You know, they would say, "This is one thing here, and it just happened to be that we are just getting a little money for doing this. But we're not really working. We're really sorta serving." You know, they come up with some kind of a way of...of [pauses]...of...of making it more charitable, and...because they come from churches where there would be enough money in the offering plate to take care of that. We come from a community where there is not enough money in the offering plate to take care of that. So we've got to think of how we are gonna to get that money in order to provide those jobs for young people.
ERICKSEN: What's it like being President Emeritus of Voice of Calvary?
PERKINS: I don't think about it. I don't know what it means. Really I don't. [Laughs] I don't...I don't....
ERICKSEN: What kind of role do you [pauses] play?
PERKINS: Do I play? I...I think, probably the role that I play is a...is that I speak very positive and...and encouraging, and I still speak with a commitment even though I have another organization. I speak with a great commitment. I do [pauses] fund raising in terms of...of involving Voice of Calvary Ministry with all the friends that I have, exposing them. I still speaks for the ministry. I mean, I would say I would be a...I guess, sorta like...I don't know what a chancellor of a college would do, but try to keep the...the historical encouragement of what the past have been, and...and...and clarifying any thoughts [pauses] with people out there who have questions about.... I guess the big question people would ask me: "How do you feel about the ministry today?" I think that's sorta a key that we would get. And I always say that "It's going on better now than when I was there." That sorta sobers people up quickly. And they say, "What do you mean?" I say, "Things are growing, it's better, the budget is better, they're doing more work. Where we were working on buying a house one at a time, they're now buying them sixteen at a time and working on them. They're having...while we would have five work groups down during the summer, they'll have ten work groups down during the summer background noise from adjacent room]," you know, and that kind of stuff, you know. So I just try to let them see. "Thriftco is growing and developing, you know." It's that kind of role that I think I play. Then I come down here every four months to do these workshops. Well, that's a big plug out of my time, coming down here to do this. I enjoy it. But that's...that's about the only [pauses].... I don't think anymore I...I don't think that at all, and you would need to ask Lem, I...I...I think...I believe that they enjoy me coming and look forward for me coming, and I don't think that there's any thoughts at all that my coming is gonna to interfere with any direction that they got. I...I like that, and that's something that I was concerned about. I was concerned about, you know, how they would see...would my coming get in their way? I did think that there was a time in Mendenhall that they saw my presence as [pauses] in their way.
ERICKSEN: Is that part of the reason you moved up here?
PERKINS: No...no...no...no. I'm talking about after I moved up here.
ERICKSEN: Oh, I see.
PERKINS: After I moved up here and went down there. No, not when I was there. Oh, I had [pauses] control of the ministry [pauses] up here for a year or two after I moved up here, a few years after I moved up here. And...and...and that they [pauses]... they did not want me to give up control. They wanted me to stay in some slot of control. But when I did, that created a...that's when the division and animosity developed. They didn't like the way I went about doing it. But it's hard to...it's the most difficult task to make a group of people self-sufficient. And...and...and it's difficult to do that and still make those same peoples happy and like you though every means of the process, because people would rather be able to be dependent. They would really...be able to let the other people make the hard decisions and the fund raising decisions and be able then to fault somebody else for the responsibility for that. So when all the responsibility got to them down there, it...they th...it looked like I was...put them down and had forsaken them and turned my back on them, and really was fighting hard against them, as far as they was concerned, you know. But all of that worked through, and I think now that, boy, they'd be...I think they're happy when I go down there, too.
ERICKSEN: How long did it take for that relationship to [pause]...?
PERKINS: To develop? I mean to heal?
ERICKSEN: The animo...yeah, to heal.
PERKINS: If it started in '78 [pauses]...yeah, '80 [pauses], it wasn't here when I left in '82. I guess it probably started to heal in '83, '84. It was [pauses]...it was probably '83 or 4 before I went back to preach down there.
ERICKSEN: What was the first time back like?
PERKINS: I don't [pauses]...I don't remember it exactly. I don't remember it exactly. I don't think I thought of it very very m.... I think I thought of...of...of not being there as being more important than me being there. And so my going back there was not a big.... I...you know, the question that was probably in my mind was, "Do this make any difference, me being back?" And then I was invited to come back. And...and you know, and...and...and they want me to back, come back 'n back 'n back. [pauses] I...see...see, I think that...one thing you might not know that I...I...I...when I speak, I shares and it can be good and dangerous. Dangerous for them and for me too and for everybody. I usually shares openly what is in fact going on, and where I feel we're at this point in...in our development. So I would have...I would have that...on that Sunday morning, would have...would have raised those iss...the issues of...of...of how long it's been and what life has been like, and...and I would have probably asked the question, you know, whether or not [pauses] I should be back. We would have talked...I would have talked openly about what is going on, and people would have had a feeling. So if...if...if we left that meeting with some progress, it would have been progress, it would not have been just everybody walking out shaking each others' hand in some kind of cordial way. I mean, that don't happen around...that don't happen around here. Now that...I mean, and everybody know that that would...that is our style. Our style is...is not allowing animosity and...and strife to...to go un...unchallenged. And if there's a problem, that problem is...is being discussed, is being discussed.
[Interview momentarily stopped, perhaps in order to switch tapes.]
ERICKSEN: [Background noise from adjacent room intermittently occurs as background noise, including piano] You...you talk in, I think it was And Justice for All, about the Jackson crusade that Billy Graham Association held here . And you talk about [pauses]...you mention your, I guess, confronting the committee with how you sensed they were using your presence. Can you talk about that?
PERKINS: Yeah. Well, [unidentified squeaking noise] I guess I can retell the story. I guess there was a great effort, and I think a lot of people in Mississippi saw [pauses] the Billy Graham Crusade as a wonderful opportunity to help to paint a new image of Mississippi. And...and so there was a great desire, and I think that image they wanted to paint was that things are progressing and doing well in Mississippi. And...and...and I think that would have given indication that the church has been behind some of that progress. And...and the church, especially the white church in Mississippi, have not contributed very much to progress for black people in this state. And so that [pauses] when they was putting together the committee in the early days of it, they had this meeting up in north side of Jackson (the Holiday Inn on the north side), where [car horn honking] they wanted everybody to come, and I...white pastors and black pastors was getting together. And I came in a little bit late to the meeting, and [pauses]...and then a lot of the discussion was going on, very good discussion. And they was talking about how the Crusade was gonna to be conducted and that kind of thing, and they really wanted black participation in the crusade. And I...and I got up and I said, "You know, I'm...it's pretty exciting that...the possibility of Dr. Graham coming to this city," and I said, "I...I...I know that when he speaks, that...that people are gonna to go forward and make confessions of faith. And [pauses]...and I suspect that I'll be sitting on the platform." And I said [pauses], "I don't know whether or not I want to participate in making the same kind of white Christians that we've had in the past," I said, "because what will happen is that some of our young folk will probably go to your church, and...and you will turn them down." And I said, "They would have seen me sitting on the platform would give them the assumption that I agree with that. And...and I don't know if I want to participate in that. Because that was a...that was really a...it really challenged those pastors that was there. And in most cases, I don't think that a white pastor would have thought about that 'til after the event, because the...the...the...the...the ignorance of...of...of...of...of Southern white churches within their...with their role, or their non-role and their role, I would say, in maintaining subjugation in the South, is so deep that...that there're enlightened white folks who can't understand it, because, you see, they assume that being a Christian make them doing something very good. Okay? [Car horn honks] For instance, let me s...I can illustrate it. I can illustrate it by...my best illustration would be by [pauses] Jimmy Carter. Jimmy Carter run...won the president of the United States, and much of his support came from him going to black churches and speaking, singing "We shall overcome." And when he was elected president, he didn't realize that no black could be a member of his own church, and he was awfully embarrassed, you know. That shows the naiveness of it, that...that...that...that one would be running for the president of the United States, and wasn't conscious of the fact, and singing in black churches, and wasn't conscious of the fact [car horn honks] that...and never had asked a question or that wasn't the part of the kind of question that his background could even ask. You know, and then and...and...and then see that as an em...as a great embarrassment, a great hypocrisy or embarrassment. I mean so that...so that...that was a.... But the Billy Graham Crusade, I think, given all of that, was a...was a...was a wonderful...was a wonderful turning point, I think. I think it turned out to be a...a very good thing. Now, I don't know whether or not it [pauses]...it changed many white people. You know, I don't know whether or not it changed many white people. But it was a...it was a...it was a...it was a great public display of unity. You couldn't have told the Mississippi crusade from no other crusade in the United States. And there was...there was...there was a visible participation of...of both black and whites on the...on the executive committee. I was on the steering committee on the executive committee and on all of the committees. In fact, the treasurer for the crusade was a black gentleman.
ERICKSEN: And what about...what did happen after?
PERKINS: Oh yeah. John Thomas, [laughs] one of our guys here in this staff who's a...who's a Haitian, he and a group of kids went to the church right up here, the street here, Parkway Baptist Church, for some kind of a Christmas pageant or something, and...and they turned him away from the church. So what we thought would happen in fact did happen in the church.
ERICKSEN: How did the...the Graham Association [Billy Graham Evangelistic Association] respond to your challenge prior to the Crusade?
PERKINS: Oh, I...I think that they [pauses]...I think they was open to that. I...I...I...I think that Charles Riggs, I believe, I think he...I think he responded to that at that meeting, in terms of that it...that...that, you know, some of the history and background, and that Billy Graham would not hold a crusade unless there was full participation. So I think his...his...his response was...was really on target. I...I think the...if we did anything good that day, I think it was...it was...it was heightening the awareness and the consciousness of the...of the Mississippi white pastors who was there. I think possible heighten their consciousness, too, of the...of the black pastors. [pauses] I think that the black pastors recognized the fact that white folks are wrong in their not allowing blacks to participate in there church and worship. I don't know whether or not blacks care about whites participating in their's. And there's no...and I think that's the sadness in the whole issue today. I don't believe that there's no blacks who...first of all, I don't think they even feel, number one, capable of winning in their own mind, or win whites to their congregation. I th...I think they think that whites are so deep in their racism that it would be impossible to win them to Christ and to that kind of common sense. Number one. I don't know whether or not they would want whites in their church even if they'd won, [pauses] you know. So that...so that that needs to be dealt with just as...just as bad as white racism. I think blacks would be willing to talk about white racism in terms of the way it behaves. I don't think that blacks would be ready to talk about their reaction to racism would be racism [pauses] at all, and that they would not create a...a proper respond to good people who wanted to stop being racist. [laughs] I think they would see that in the marketplace, I think they would want to see that in the marketplace. I don't...they'd want to see that in the political arena. I think they'd want to see open participation. I don't think black folks care about white folks participating in their church.
ERICKSEN: So the whole homogeneous unit principle is just reinforced?
ERICKSEN: Everybody just stays....
PERKINS: Yeah, and I think everybody sorta wanted it that way, that everybody sorta wanted it that way. And...and...and I think that people would say, "Because everybody sorta wanted it that way, since we live in a democratic society, that's the way it ought to be." I...I think that's garbage. I...I...I think it keeps the powder to hot in the gun. I think...you know, I think...I think the possibility of explosion is always there, because you haven't really dealed [sic] with it, you haven't dealt with the issues. The only thing you did is have church. All you did [laughs], you know, is made some church worship, so it haven't had any impact in terms of what the intention of the Gospel was to do in terms of reconciling blacks and whites together and giving them a love for each other, the gospel don't touch that.
END OF TAPE