Interview with Thomas S. Hardy

to lose your job if you speak out, but it was hard to convince them, but we convinced them to
register to vote.

But most of the main leaders, like my brother worked at Gordon Meat Packing Plant in
Smithfield, he was supervisor there, but the ones that really worked to overcome Massive
Resistance were people that worked outside of the county. They were actually afraid. In fact I
can attest to the fact that we went to one guy's house that lived on the farm, white man's farm,
and we drove up there, and he knowed we were coming to get him to register to vote, he took off
and ran down through the field. But we finally got him.

And one of the -- my cousin that's deceased now, David Hardy, he rode with me and he -- he
would say -- when he drive up to the house, first thing he would do if they had a dog, he loved
that, he said, has that dog got a tag? And they say, yeah, yeah, it has, Mr. Hardy, it's got a tag.
We got a tag for the dog. He said, well, you are not registered to vote. Said the dog is more of a
citizen than you are. And this really got over with them. And after -- then, backing up, David
Hardy, he's dead and gone, but he was instrumental in helping us in voter registration.

And then -- back then we found that you could vote for the justice of the peace. So he rode with
my wife back in the early sixties, he rode with her night and day, and we -- in Bacon's Castle
District, and we slipped in a write-in vote, she became the first elected official since
reconstruction days. And they couldn't believe this. They said, where did this come from?
Because all the justice of peace was appointed by the court. And my wife was actually the first
elected black official since reconstruction days. But he rode with her day and night to make sure
she got enough write-in votes, and the write-in votes weren't easy. But he was really one of the
driving forces along with Mr. C.C. Pettaway and Mr. Edward Johns, and I can go way back to
some of the old pioneers that worked with us, but we really had a long struggle, but we kept
fighting until we got where we are.

CARRINGTON: What was the connection between Surry County and the national civil rights

HARDY: No more than the fact that -- like Marin Luther King, I met him one time at Virginia
State College, but we -- Mr. Curtis Harris in Hopewell would come down, he was with the
Southern Christian Leadership Conference. He would give us a lot of inspiration, but the national
movement, the only thing I know is the fact they sent the civil rights workers in from the national
movement that was organized throughout the -- actually, they brought them from the north, and
almost all of them were white that came in, so that's where we had the affiliation with the
national movement, they sent civil rights workers in. And we kept in our homes, and like I say
back then, they done as much as they could do but they never got us into the majority, when we
had the majority population. But they done, they done a lot. They done the grass-roots work.

But as I said before, the Assembly was the organization that really put us on the road because
they was completely organized. In fact, it organized the whole county.

CARRINGTON: When you get a chance to talk to young kids now, today, you know, the civil
rights movement started over 40 years ago --

HARDY: Right.

CARRINGTON: And there are still things to do today. What would you tell them, what advice
would you give them to enlighten them to keep the movement going?

HARDY: Well, this is the problem we got in Surry now. It really bothers us because they look
around now and say, well, we've got a nice recreation center which we got through the black --
when's the blacks first came in there. Like I told you, recreation was one of our main goals, too.
And we have meetings there now, and we have a nice recreation center. And they look around
and they got three modern schools. And I think now they are complacent, and we're having a
hard time now to get the younger people to say, look, you got to look where you came from. And
we want them to follow in our foot steps to keep Surry, because we used to call it Sorry County,
but we want it to remain Surry County, but I think a lot of them are getting complacent, they say
we got what we want, so it's no need of fighting anymore. But I always tell them that history
repeats itself. If you don't watch out, they will take back over, which I wouldn't have no big
problem with right now because we have done the things we wanted to do, and I don't think no
one can overturn the things that we have accomplished.

But like you said, I am concerned about the younger people, and we are -- in fact, in the last
week -- we had a couple weeks ago, that was one of the things that we stressed, we got to reach
to the younger people to have them involved in government.

CARRINGTON: Let me go back for the moment on that thought. You were working in voter
registration, and as you know, Medgar Evers in Mississippi was killed. Did you ever have any of
those type of fears that people in Surry County, the opposition in Surry County would do any
harm to you or your family?

HARDY: Oh, yes. Yes. My mother kept telling me, said, you all will get hurt out there. Said, I
am praying every day when you leave and every night when you leave. But one night I was in
Norfolk Naval Shipyard, and my wife called and said they are burning crosses right up from the
house and throughout Surry. So it really didn't scare me, but one of them was right at the
crossroads from my house, and many mornings I would get up and Klu Klux Klan literature was
all over my yard, you know, scattered like they throw it out of the car, but it really didn't scare

And then we had one fellow the next morning, and went around and gathered every cross that
they burnt. I think it was four burned in Surry, different places, like Dendron, Virginia, right on
down. He got all the crosses that they burned, and he went on the courthouse grounds in his
truck, and he stood there, and I think he had a shotgun, he said, now, please come forward if you
built this cross. Don't be a coward. If you know anybody who built it, please come forward. And
nobody came forward. So we didn't have any more trouble. That was the end of that.

CARRINGTON: Do you have any other memorable moments that you want kids to know about
in the struggle in Surry County that brought you guys to where you are today?

HARDY: Well, one was the one like I told you when I came back from the service. You know, if
you go somewhere and fight for your country and be humiliated like that and said we don't serve
blacks, and it is hard to remember -- hard for me to think that when I went to the Norfolk Naval
Shipyard they had colored and white drinking fountains, colored and white restrooms, colored
and white cafeterias. And I never forget, I think when -- the Eisenhower administration when all
that was wiped out, declared unconstitutional, and all the guys in the Naval Yard would say,
well, today we're going to drink some of the white water, see if it tastes any different, and the
fountains changed.

But I think our children today should be instilled in the fact how far that we have come. And a
lot of them don't realize what we had to go through because they wouldn't think back in the
fifties when I went to Norfolk Naval Shipyard that you had black and white restroom facilities,
drinking water and cafeteria. They was completely separated. But all that changed over a period
of time, but our younger people need to realize that these things really happened, and I don't
think they would even think today it ever happened, because today they can go anywhere.

But still, right now, we have got pockets of racial overtures with people that have still got a racial
bias in Surry County, but it's not as many as it used to be, but Surry has come a long ways.

But right now, we're in a fight raising the courthouse now because we want to -- the old
courthouse, we want to renovate that, and they are fighting us day and night they, they had a
meeting last night, and I decided I wasn't even going, but it's a white group that formed an
organization, and we got some blacks along with them that they want to throw away all the
plans. And the -- really, the courthouse has to be renovated because it has to meet the handicap,
you know, regulations that are set down by the federal government, and we wanted to move the
sheriff's department there, but it look like they are going to win that battle and stop us there. But
-- so we still got, you know, an up-hill battle, I guess some of the die-hard whites, because I told
them not along ago at the board of supervisors meeting, I say, if you -- because going back, in
1981, Ray Peace ran for the 4th District in the county, which was a black voting district. So now,
today, he is resigned from the board of supervisors, he's not going to seek re-election, but today
we have four blacks on the board of supervisors, so we got four districts.

But like I was saying, they are still fighting us up hill to take back the government, and if you
don't watch, history will repeat itself if we don't, you know keep fighting. But as far as the racial
harmony in the county it has improved at least 75 percent since we took over in 1971.

CARRINGTON: Thank you, sir. Anything else?


CARRINGTON: Let me ask one question about something. In 1965, right after the Voting
Rights Bills, what percentage of blacks in Surry County were registered and then how many
were registered in 1971 when you'll took office? How much did it increase?

HARDY: Well, it increased, I would say, like the the blacks -- it increased about 75 percent,
because in 1980 – 1980, we were pointed out by the State of Virginia that we in 1980 during
the presidential election we out -- we over excelled any county in the State of Virginia with
eligible registered voters, over 87 percent of the people in Surry County voted, and that was tops
for the state. When you got 87 percent, when the average presidential election is about 55 percent
of the people, eligible to vote that go to the polls, we had 87 percent, we were tops. And they
outlined, I think Richmond Times-Dispatch even printed this, we were tops in the state. And
even today we average 65 to 70 percent of our people going to the polls because we are -- back
then, we had -- we used to keep a list people, and people said, why do you have a list of
registered voters? But being a small county, like my district, Bacon's Castle, we would have a list
of every black voter in Bacon's Castle, and as they came to the polls, we would check them off.
We had poll watchers that stayed all day, and we would check them off. They would say, why do
you have this list? We said, because 6:00 o'clock -- polls close at 7:00 o'clock. We said 6:00
o'clock, we are going to start sending cars to get those people that haven't showed up, and that's
what made us successful.

And we would do that, and like I said, I would think right now that we got probably 80 percent
of the blacks in Surry County registered to vote because, you know, we started out with voter
registration, but then you had to have voter education. You had to actually teach them we had
paper ballots you had to actually teach them how to mark those ballots. And we had sample
ballots, and we would tell people to take these ballots into the polls with you, we would mark it,
because they come us to, say, who are you all supporting? They would look right to us, and so
whoever we supported they supported.

Then when they got the voting machines, we had the ballot which showed how to pull the lever,
and we would tell them, pull the lever for this one, and so you take this ballot in there and we
had the levers turned over to who we supported.

So all this worked really because, like I said, voter registration without voter education, you are
right back where you started from. They would go in there and vote for the wrong person.

CARRINGTON: I need you to restate what Mr. Ragsdale said about voter registration, that when
the law came down and said [inaudible.] How big was the increase...?

HARDY: We went from, like I said, we started this movement from Surry County Improvement
Association to the Assembly, we went from at least 20 percent of blacks registered to vote,
which a poll tax was -- we went from at least 20 percent to about 70 percent of the eligible blacks
that were registered -- that were eligible to vote, we went to about 70 percent, and I would say
today we're probably 80 percent of the blacks in Surry County are registered to vote, which I
think is a good percentage.


RAGSDALE : I had one follow-up question. Mr. Hardy, the black majority has run Surry County
for 32 years now, and your experiences has been very unique. What do you think you can say to
your neighbors, your fellow Virginians and to your fellow Americans about the lessons which
you have learned from your experiences?

HARDY: Well, it has -- I can say it has been a learning experience, and I'd say that we as blacks,
we should exercise our voting rights at the polls, come what will what may if we have the
majority, we put our people in office, but we shall always remember that all factions have to
work together, both races have to work together to make the county more a place of harmony to
live and work together as people, and I can say that we've always put God first, because prayer
answers everything, like my mother used to say, and I think that's what brought us where we are
today. And I still say, racial harmony is the bottom line. We should not look upon each other
because of race, creed or color. We should work together as a common government, and that's
what we strive to do in Surry County. And I think it is working at least 95 percent in Surry

CARRINGTON: All right. Thank you. You can stop tape, sir.