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Collection 368 Oral History Interview with Vera Mae Perkins

Identifier: CN 368

Scope and Contents

Oral history interview with Vera Mae Buckley Perkins in which she discusses her family background, her education, the importance of her Christian faith, marriage to John Perkins, racial conditions in Mississippi and involvement in Civil Rights demonstration, and racial conditions in that state. Other topics discussed include her work as a migrant laborer and participation in Civil Rights protests that resulted in the integration of the school system in Mendenhall, Mississippi. The time period covered by the interview is circa 1930 to 1987.

Vera Mae Perkins was interviewed by Paul Ericksen on June 19, 1987 at the Voice of Calvary offices in Jackson, Mississippi.


  • Created: 1987

Conditions Governing Access

There are no restrictions on the use of this collection.

Biographical or Historical Information

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.


1.00 Audio Tape

61 Minutes

Language of Materials


Accruals and Additions

The materials in this collection were given to the Billy Graham Center Archives by Vera Mae Perkins in June, 1987.

Accession 87-77

March 5, 1990

Robert Shuster

Collection 368 Oral History Interview with Vera Mae Perkins
Bob Shuster
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Repository Details

Part of the Evangelism & Missions Archives Repository

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